Saturday, January 15, 2011

Do You Self-Serve?

Flickr photo by landofnodstudios
A very interesting opinion piece on discusses what I've been thinking about for a while now.

Years ago I noticed the self-serve checkouts at the grocery store. I've never used them. First, I don't really want to and the more people who go through the line themselves, the less people that the store will hire to do that work. And in the end, they will eliminate jobs. We have enough problems with so many jobs being outsourced.

In the past six months or so, I noticed that CVS added the self-serve machines. I don't use them there either. If anything, I've noticed lines are often longer now. Or maybe just the irony of the situation makes it feel like they are longer. There are less people working and usually one of the people who is supposed to be ringing up customers is at the self-serve machine helping people put their items through. Because the machine isn't working. So we all wait.

Just a few weeks ago, I noticed that the library now has a self-serve area for picking up items being held and for checking them out. I wonder if any people have lost their job at the library, because the machine can do the work? How many?

What do you think about the increasing numbers of self-serve places? Do use them? Do you think it causes people to lose their jobs?

Maybe it's just the old way giving in to the new and is the only way for a society to move forward. The article makes the case and acknowledges the downside too.
"From an economist’s point of view, the new machines represent an economic boon. They are the classic substitution of capital for labor. Productivity — how many people it takes to generate a certain amount of wealth — is a key measure of an economy’s success; with the new machines, for instance, CVS can now run the same store with fewer employees. That creates greater wealth which, in general, should be a good thing."

"It is a problem that has bedeviled us since the dawn of the industrial age. Just as sewing machines once replaced seamstresses, so too today’s check-in machines replace hotel receptionists."

I guess there are no easy answers to these questions. There never were. Nobody ever said that life was fair.

*Updated 1/20/2011* On a related note, below is a quote (with emphasis added) from an article that I just read today on the Harvard Business Review website.
"Job growth has slowed significantly in the financial- and business-services sectors due to technology-driven service industrialization (automation, outsourcing, off-shoring, process re-engineering, and self-service."

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Nance said...

Besides the objections you mentioned, I resent the fact that I will do this job for free! Why should I act as cashier and bagger and still pay full price for the items I bought? If the self-serve offered me, say, a 5% rebate on my purchases, then maybe I'd work in their store AND shop there, too. Most places offer their labor an employee discount. Isn't that basically what we're talking about here? Think about it.

Lisa said...

nance - You're so right! Now I wonder if any stores offer a rebate. They probably don't want to cut into their profits though. Some stores, not even all of them, offer a discount for bringing reusable bags, but I'm sure they're only offering that because they end up saving money by purchasing less. So increased profit again!

denene @ style and inspiration said...

You and Nance make some good points and things that I've never thought about. I have used self-serve checkouts and usually use it in the library only because I'm kinda weird and don't always want the employee to see my book titles. I read a lot of self help and am paranoid that the employee with think I'm nuts!

But, you've given me food for thought as far as stores are concerned. I've never looked at it from the angle that I'm doing labor for free!

Lisa said...

denene - I read all kinds of books and sometimes wonder what the employees think about them too! It would be interesting to get a librarian's perspective about this.

Good and plenty said...

Great minds think alike, Lisa.
I wrote a piece, Banking on Impatience: Why I don't use self-service on 12/12. The link is below.

Lisa said...

candelaria - Thanks for the link! You make so many good points!

Tracy said...

Great post & topic, Lisa! When we were home in the US at Thanksgiving, we noticed these self-service lines/counters had cropped up everywhere. This was startling, as our first reaction was that this will cut jobs--as if the US needs more job cuts!! So we don't use them. This concept hasn't found it's way to Europe much, and is not here in Norway. The only self-serve is at the library, which we do use occasionally--some libraries have cut staff already, so if it's quiet at the library you can be waiting a while until someone shows up at the desk to help you check out your books/materials. What is happening to the service sectors?! Have a great week, Lisa. Oh, incidentally, I saw the "Coco before Chanel" film last year too, and LOVED it! :o)

Ruth D~ said...

I tried them at a supermarket for the fun of it. They were problematic and required calls to staff for help. Less efficient in the long run... although I n=might use them if there wwere long lines at the at the human cashiers and I was in a serious rush to make an appointment and had only one item.

Lisa said...

tracy - It seems like other countries are doing better at keeping the jobs that they have and getting knew ones. We just seem to be eliminating jobs right and left here! I'm going to write a post about the movie at some point, but I'm working on a project to go with it. You have a great week too!

ruth d - I was just at CVS and again, a long line waiting for the one cashier, because the second cashier was helping someone at the self-serve. He ended up just staying at the self-serve and checking us out there, instead of going back to his register.

I can see using the self-serve in the example that you gave. Sometimes you gotta rush!

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