The effects of new technology can sometimes creep up on you.
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When I first saw self-checkout lanes in supermarkets, I assumed they just weren’t for me, but would please those buying a thing or two.
However, progressively, I have experienced regressive feelings about this obstacle to replacing humans with (imperfect) technology.
I’ve had bad experiences every time I’ve had to self-check in at Heathrow airport.
Somehow the machines would never let me pay without the help of a store clerk.
Then I began to think that some people were actively rioting after seeing pictures of long lines of customers waiting for a human cashier and ignoring the self-checkout.
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Then, I learned that several supermarket chains were removing self-checkout lanes because, allegedly, too many customers were helping themselves to unpaid merchandise.
In addition, other supermarket chains were now stationing employees to check that the self-checkouts had indeed paid.
I kept wondering what was wrong with this picture. Why did all these great supermarkets suddenly experience a lack of human confidence?
Going to a cashier is often faster, as they are good at what they do, know all the codes for the products and even do the luggage for you.
Going on a self-cater simply involves trying to do his job without any prior training.
Now, however, a major supermarket chain has created another good whistle. British chain Sainsbury’s — a rather posh place, on a good day — has installed barriers once you’ve completed your self-checkout duties.
As the Manchester Evenings News reported, self-checkers must now scan their receipts before being allowed to leave the building.
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Please imagine the disappointment of the buyers. Self-checkout is meant to be faster. Now there is one more thing that buyers need to remember to complete the task.
Well, let’s hear the words of one disgruntled Sainsbury’s customer: “Basically they’re holding on [people] hostage against their will as they refuse to let people leave without scanning a receipt that not everyone chooses to receive in the first place. What will they do? Hold someone hostage and rifle through their bags before releasing you?”
Most likely, I imagine. Maybe they will have to hire a full-time security person who will be paid more than the cashiers.
Of course, one can understand retailers wanting to use technology to save money. Supermarket retailing is a low margin business. Why, Walmart is even threatening to close stores due to an increase in robberies.
Furthermore, Sainsbury’s insists this is “not a new security measure and features in a small number of our stores in self-service checkout areas”. (I wonder how the company chose which stores would enjoy this great service.)
Too often, technology is being used to turn customers into employees, without providing sufficient benefits to customers.
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Isn’t there an inappropriate irony in claiming to give customers a faster way to leave and then putting up a barrier that prevents them from doing so?
Technology is always supposed to have an uplifting psychological benefit. However, here it is exactly the opposite. Doesn’t it feel more, well, psychologically liberating to go to the cashier? Even more human.
Oh, but maybe that’s just a hiccup. Soon, we’ll have tiny chips embedded in our hands that will personally identify us. This way, we will be charged as we scan, directly to our credit cards.
And, let’s not forget, the supermarket will know exactly where we live. In any case, you understand.