Automation gets checked out

Shoppers persist and resist technology in retail

Some retail stores are fulfilling requests from patrons that demand an easier shopping experience.

Electronic technology makes daily tasks quicker and easier, so logic would suggest shoppers are demanding more self-checkouts, right? In defiance of this logic, however, some are requesting the contrary. Believe it or not, they want self-checkouts removed.

In her article called, “Why some stores have pulled their self-checkout machines,” CBC business reporter Sophia Harris says Canadian Tire locations in Toronto have removed self-checkouts in response to customers saying they prefer interacting with cashiers.

For young people who are accustomed to using electronic technology in many aspects of their lives, self-checkouts can be convenient. But for retail stores like Canadian Tire, the question has to be asked: are young, efficient users of technology the customers who are visiting their stores most often?    

Luke Branconnier, who lives in Winnipeg with his parents, always uses self-checkouts.

“They’re (self-checkouts) way quicker, and I’m usually just grabbing a couple things, because my mom gets the groceries,” he says.

The 22-year-old says he appreciates the convenience of automated retail but isn’t shopping at grocery stores every day or even every week.

Debra Nesbitt has an alternate view. Living in Winnipeg with her daughter, she visits the grocery store once or twice a week and says self-checkout stands are convenient, but not necessary.

“They (self-checkouts) are confusing at first, but once you know (how to use them), it’s quick and easy,” she says. “But I don’t use them. They take away jobs from young people.”

Typically, grocery and retail stores offer steady employment opportunities for young students in need of part-time work and people with disabilities who may experience limitations within other workplace settings, which means automated retail shopping can take away their job opportunities.

Perhaps self-checkouts are not a friendly option for parents who are buying a lot of groceries or for older customers who aren’t familiar with new technology. In that sense, the Canadian Tire locations in Toronto have made the right call by removing self-checkouts.

However, as today’s youth come of age, what will these retail businesses do once their future patrons are people who have lived their entire lives in the digital age? Will those customers demand that the number of self-checkouts be increased?

The Canadian Tire locations in Toronto are a rare example of a large company that is currently trying to moderate the automation we’re seeing today. It’s great that they have acknowledged the needs and wants of customers while making more jobs available in the process.

However, we are seeing a spike in online shopping, and there are even retail stores like Amazon Go in Seattle without any cashiers and self-checkouts. The emergence of stores like that could influence other business conglomerates to mimic Amazon’s retail model and increase their already-massive profits with fewer (or no) workers and more automation.

Large businesses are coming to a crossroads, and the people running those businesses have to ask themselves some questions. Should they follow the lead of the Canadian Tire stores in Toronto and keep jobs available for those in need by reducing automation? Or should they reduce employment opportunities and increase profits by installing machines to do the work?

Young consumers must ask themselves similar questions: Do we forego automation and keep part-time job opportunities that have been ideal for many people for decades? Or do we embrace automation and force future generations of people to find jobs elsewhere?

To answer these questions, we’ll have to turn off Netflix and think about it.

Graham is an English student at the University of Winnipeg.

Published in Volume 73, Number 19 of The Uniter (February 28, 2019)

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