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Do Self-Checkout Machines Put Cashier Jobs in Trouble?

Nobody wants to spend a long time in a line. Whether it’s the ATM, dining table or offline bank transaction, we want to take the shortest route and be on our way.

One common instance we get involved in a line is the supermarket cashier who process our check out items. On busy hours or weekends, we condition ourselves to stay long in the line and amuse ourselves with that handy companion called mobile phone while we wait for our turn.

As new technology comes in, the cashier’s job could be in peril as supermarkets start implementing the self-check out counters that allow customers to process their groceries with little to no interference from supermarket staff.

This is nothing new. We have been using self-service check out booths at the library when we borrow books. Even certain McDonald’s outlets allow us to place our orders via an interactive panel without engaging with cashiers. All we need to do is pick our menu of choice, pay (by credit or Octopus card) and wait for our number to be called for order pick up.

Going through supermarket cashiers is an option many shoppers prefer. That’s because we can ask for plastic bag (for a fee), pay by card or cash, and they also help pack our groceries. Many shoppers still prefer the traditional cashier payment system because they are already used to this procedure.

But self-checkout machines allow customers to scan the bar codes on products, choose their payment method option and tap their card, completing their transaction in only a few minutes. This feature has been pioneered in 2011 in by Aeon, which operates Jusco department stores and supermarkets. 

Soon others followed suit such as IKEA, ParkNShop and Wellcome to name a few.

While the process appears automated, it’s not always a breeze to go through this method. Most items only require bar code scanning, but others such as fruit and vegetables require weighing — which requires another machine to do so — to get their exact price.

Another factor to consider is that a significant ratio of shoppers in local supermarkets are elderly people, who may be averse to learning new ways to perform grocery checkouts, and likely prefer going to a human cashier.

Although supermarkets have been assuring that these machines are not out to replace the traditional cashier jobs, and that displaced cashiers may be employed in another section of the shop, this is not convincing enough to concerned workers.

For instance, staff may still be deployed to supervise the checkout process and assist customers who have trouble doing so. But soon as customers get comfortable with the self-check out facilities, they could soon desert their trusted cashiers in favor of the machines and these self-checkout assistants may no longer be necessary.

As the retail businesses embrace automation, a common sticking point is the future of employees affected by this innovation.

But if cashier jobs could be replaced by this type of technology, maybe new careers could emerge out of this change. It is hard to tell right now, but we can look at other industries for inspiration. The Internet, for instance, introduced new opportunities such as web developers and online entrepreneurs.

This might not be the same with cashiers, but hopefully there will be a way to keep them employed in supermarkets even if this no longer involves grocery checkouts.

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