Self Checkout and Saving American Jobs

What a trip to the grocery store has to do with employment.


As Congress and the White House blame each other for the poor employment situation, here's one thing Americans can do to help save jobs:

Refuse to use those self check-out machines grocery stores and pharmacies are increasingly encouraging consumers to choose.

Refuse. Refuse adamantly. Do not be moved by the manager who looks at you beseechingly and pathetically as you wait in a long line to check out with an actual human being. When a manager tries to lure you to the self check-outs, saying, "I'm just trying to help you learn how to use the machine," respond by saying, "no, you want me to help you put someone out of a job. And I won't do it."

Never mind that the machines can be confusing, that they are of unreliable accuracy, and that they take any social or human element out of shopping. Managers and store owners have insisted (to me, anyway, when I say I would prefer to stand in line than use those things) that they are just trying to make the shopping experience faster and more efficient. No, they're not. They're trying to eliminate jobs and increase profits.

[See a collection of cartoons on the economy]

I like my regular check-out folks. I like Ron at my local 17th St. Safeway, who calls me by name, gives me a broad smile, and lets me know – in case I didn't – that the whole wheat English muffins I was buying are actually on sale, two-for-one, and that he'll wait while I run to get another one. I like the always smiling young woman at my nearby Walgreens, who notices when I'm buying something that has an in-store coupon, finds a circular, and credits me with the discount. This is a country that once prided itself on customer service – something I came to appreciate while shopping in Kiev in the 1990s and dealing with clerks who acted as though they were doing me a big favor by selling me anything at all. Which, I guess, during communism was probably the case.  But I'm back in America, consumer heaven, and I don't want to do the work the stores used to hire people to do. It's impersonal and an unnecessary burden on the buyer.

They may be tough, in the standoff. They may try to make it actually impossible to check out with an actual person. Do not be weak against this pressure. It happened to me, at a CVS, when I was headed to the check-out counter with several items. No one was behind the counter. I waited, then went to look for a clerk. A re-stocker sent me over to a woman who had been standing by – but not behind – the counter. She moved to escort me over to the self check-out machines. I said calmly that I would not use those machines. She said she was not authorized to use the cash register. With no one to ring up my purchases, I left my items on the counter. CVS lost a sale (and, except in emergencies, a longtime customer). I always wondered what happened to the items I left on the counter.

Perhaps one of the self check-out machines returned them to the shelves.

  • See this month's political cartoons.
  • See 6 ways to fix the housing market.
  • See a gallery of cartoons on the economy.