In many countries, retailers are running experiments with automatic scanning and payment. In theory, the system would guarantee no theft, no errors and no cashiers to pay out.
Revolutionary inventions in France and North-Germany
Self-service checkpoints have existed for some time now, but retailers everywhere are announcing new tests to improve the scheme – like Auchan in Tourcoing, a French city just across the Belgian border who would introduce a self-service checkout where customers can pay cash.
German Edeka announced it will try a system with debit cards, where customers first add money to the card and then pay up to 20 euro without having to use cash. If successful, Edeka will expand the project to bigger amounts.
…and a scanning tunnel in Cologne
Rewe, another German company, will open a “scanning tunnel” in a Cologne supermarket, where scanners on each side of the tunnel will read the products’ bar-codes. In this system, a cashier would still be necessary to scan heavy products that can not go through the tunnel – and oddly enough, for paying as well. Rewe thinks the new system will save the supermarket a lot of man-hours, which it will invest in customer service. The latter is remarkable, because most chains want to apply self-service checkouts to reduce man-hours and improve business margins.
A threat to social cohesion
Trade unions in the UK and many other countries are worried, because aside from the Rewe example, automatisation is used to do the same work with fewer people. This can also be in other areas than the tills: Tesco has been testing an automatic navigation system for their customers. The fact that searching customers no longer have to bother employees during their work is estimated to be such a big cost reduction, that it would more than make up for the loss in impulse purchases that the system would cause.
This new invention fits in the evolution that supermarkets are no longer a place where you can have a nice chat with the employees or the cashiers. The in-store staff is too busy trying to reach their productivity targets, and with the self-service checkpoint growing ever more popular with supermarket directors, there will also be no more cashiers to talk to.
Alcohol is the solution?
The American state of California has offered cashiers a life line as a side-effect of law ‘AB 183’: this proposition forbids that alcohol be sold at self-service checkouts. In California, retailers would have the choice: stop selling alcohol, or stop converting to self-service checkouts. In a strange twist of fate, alcohol just might be the saviour of many people’s jobs…