Saturday, February 19, 2011

Stop the self-check-out madness!

This morning I walked into my local CVS to buy tissues. As I approached the check-out area, my heart sank; there was one register open (with 4 people already in line), and a nice young woman was directing customers to use the shiny new self-service check-out machines instead.

An older woman in front of me was convinced to try the machines, and then got more and more frustrated as the machine clearly had trouble dealing with her cash purchase. She eventually asked the attendant, "Isn't there something you can do about this?" When the response came -- "No, I'm sorry, ma'am, there isn't." -- I loudly observed, "Yes there is. You can hire more cashiers."

It was like lancing a boil -- the whole check-out area erupted in cheers! I continued, stating that these machines take away entry-level jobs and essentially outsource the company's labor costs to its customers. The people around me were nodding and muttering support, and eventually the store supervisor opened another register, to another round of cheers.

Note to retailers making customers take over cashier positions: We don't like it!

If you don't like it, take action:

  • Refuse to use self-service check-out machines.
  • If you have to wait in line because there aren't enough cashiers, complain! Doing it loudly, in the store as I did, is good (because it lets other people vent along with you), but you should also complain to the highest management person on-site (typically a shift supervisor) and lodge a complaint at the company's web site. Be specific: be prepared to provide the time of day, a rough idea of line length (a number, not just "long"), and the store location.
Here are links to customer feedback pages for some of the stores aggressively pushing self-checkout:
  • Shaws
  • CVS - This astonished me, but CVS doesn't seem to have any sort of web-based feedback page. You have to call or write a letter:

    CVS Corporation
    One CVS Drive
    Woonsocket, RI 02895
  • Publix
  • Kroger
I'm not the only person unhappy about this:


  1. I actually like using the self-checkout lanes. The lines for them are often shorter and faster, probably because everyone's heading over to the staffed lanes. It's a bit of exercise, and I know that I'm not going to mis-scan my items. I like the running total, too.

    If the growing popularity of self-checkout lanes reduce the number of entry-level jobs, I wonder what kinds of opportunities we can create instead for students and other folks needing a leg up. If those opportunities involve more creativity or variety than repetitive standing-up motions in a forced-cheer environment (which causes unhappiness, incidentally), I think that's a win, although we'll probably have growing pains along the way.

    Just a different perspective!

  2. It's clear from reading comments on other blogs that opinion is divided. I would expect most tech-savvy readers of blogs to to favor self-check-out, and the machines do have their place. But this should be done in a way that IMPROVES the customer experience, rather than degrading it. Instead, the clear focus is on the bottom line: cut labor costs.