Supermarkets automating unemployment

Updated: May 1

The devastating effects of self-serve check-out systems at supermarkets.



I occasionally take a few minutes after doing my weekly groceries to watch the time it takes consumers to process their orders using the new automated self-serve check-out systems versus the traditional clerked check-out lanes.

As most folks know, under the hypocritical guise of efficiency and speed, supermarkets, as one of the most flagrant examples, have been rapidly implementing these stations for a while now across their store networks.

Now depending on the number of clients, time of day, and such, on the whole, I haven’t been able to discern that one is particularly faster than the other.

In fact, one day recently I noticed that with only two regular check-out lanes open, there were four attendants assisting customers in the self-serve area.

These individuals could have been bagging groceries at the check-out lanes, making them even speedier, but that doesn’t play well into the new corporate strategies of many firms.

Many consumers that I’ve watched seem to find the automated systems cumbersome as not all products lend themselves to the technology such as fruits, vegetables, customer-bagged bulk items, etc.

So at this point, you’ll say that the supermarkets are retaining as many workers as before with these automated section assistants, yet all industry data will eventually point to the contrary in my opinion.

As more people become familiar with the self-serve process it’ll get much worse as even the number of these lower-paid assistants in the automated section will eventually decrease as well.

The difference between these attendants, usually entry-level young people, and the fully trained and experienced check-out clerks, is obvious. They cost less and haven’t invested years with the companies building up proper wages and crucial benefits.

Now this corporate mindset didn’t start yesterday or even with supermarkets.

Many of us are old enough to remember pulling into a gas station, remaining in our car and having an attendant pump the gas, and offering to clean your windshield and check your oil, and when doing so typically earned themselves a tip.

And the gas itself didn’t appear to cost a penny more because of it.

Not to mention that many of these stations were also garages with mechanics on duty, so even more people had gainful employment due to the profit on the fuel, oil, repairs as well as any sundries the station might sell to the traveling public.

So as these disappeared under buyouts most were driven out of business by the crushing competition from the multinational oil companies which they’d made rich in the past, we ended up doing that work by ourselves at these new self-serve facilities saving payroll costs for the now chain-owned stations.

And with the disappearance of all these local garages, car repair facilities have become much fewer, further apart and now charge an arm and a leg for the simplest repair.

Obviously, this exercise in greed by the supermarkets has a similar, immediate, and tragic casualty.

The traditional cashiers, mostly women with many in their forties and fifties, will steadily be losing their employment and benefits.

I happen to know a few that have actually raised their families purely on these wages.

These women won’t find equivalent work any time soon, if ever, and they won’t be easily retrained for other occupations considering that many have limited education.

So when, as they progressively get cycled out of their supermarket jobs, and after drawing employment insurance for the maximum allowable period, which of course comes out of the pocket of taxpayers, they’ll find themselves relegated to low-paying jobs with minimal benefits if they can even find them.

Furthermore, to many folks, it’s more than just money. There is pride in work, in being self-sufficient, and in contributing to society.

Let’s not forget that automated self-serve check-out stations have no families, nor pride, nor do they pay taxes or into our pension plans which allow us all to enjoy the many benefits of modern civilized society.

Employment industry forecasts for these clerks are somber indeed, with a loss of 10-15% in jobs over the next 8 years, representing up to 400,000 jobs just across North America.

A corporate favorite, the words “We have a duty to our shareholders”, represent the most hypocritical and destructive sentence in the English language, and we mustn’t let it override our sense of right and wrong.

So as these supermarket self-serve check-out stations are here to stay in one form or another - although certain retailers have removed them due to customer backlash - may I suggest that when and where available you use them exclusively for your orders of less than eight items and help preserve the livelihoods of innumerable working women as well as many men everywhere.

I know that I will.

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