I remember a time when I visited shops, picked up goods and it would be a certainty that when I came to pay for those goods it would be dealt with by a human cashier. Times have changed though. Some shops I go to these days give you no choice but to process your purchases via the speaking screen.
The world seems to be becoming more and more automated, and retail is embracing it with open arms. No longer will you get service with a smile at your local large store, but instead you can look forward to personally checking out your own goods. This sounds like a win-win for the store.
Firstly, the store doesn’t need to pay an employee to check out a customers goods. This clearly has inherent advantages for the company that runs the store, including saving money on salary, taxes and pension schemes. The only costs to the company are going to incur are the original purchase price and maintenance costs, which will be significantly less than the above costs, and easier to manage than a human cashier.
Secondly, the customer is essentially doing the job of the cashier themselves. Self service is just that, service that you do yourself. It seems to be a win for stores to get the customers to check out their own purchases rather than having someone employed to do it for them.
Recently, I’ve seen stores where all the tills are self service and I have to say it doesn’t make for a great shopping experience. One example is B and Q, a renowned hardware store, where it seems like they are running a skeleton crew of staff. No longer will you have human interaction when you go to buy your DIY goods and it makes for a cold shopping experience.
Supermarkets on the other hand have been slowly phasing in self service for quite some time. It hasn’t become fully automated yet as it takes the population time to adapt to a new style of grocery shopping, but it is definitely around the corner. Paying cashiers is becoming not economically viable for big businesses, and automation seems to be their solution. I can’t see how this can be good for the consumer though, as you no longer get any service aspect to your shopping experience.
Perhaps this is deliberate though. Recent consumer figures for November suggest that in store spending is falling, and online spending is on the increase. For quite some time there has been a big drive by supermarkets to promote their online delivery services, which you have to say leads to a reduction of footfall in stores. It therefore seems that although automation is the present, the future seems to be a no service shopping experience. How does the consumer feel happy about their purchases?
I’d hope big business would find an innovative solution to this but there are companies that already exist that offer fairly limited service but offer very affordable prices in return. You just have to look at airlines like Ryanair which portrays itself as fairly money grabbing and not overly for the benefit of its customers. People obviously don’t get on their planes for their amazing service, they get on their planes because they are by far the cheapest option available.
So for supermarkets, perhaps more self service is a good thing. The population of the world is growing at a staggering rate and with it food is becoming more scarce. Perhaps less manpower would offset the rising costs of food, and ultimately keep food more affordable without loading the rises onto the customer. Perhaps service is a luxury that we can afford to sacrifice in a bid to keep value for money.
All in all, we just don’t know what the future will hold for retail. It seems it is well on the road to automation, but where that ends we are yet to find out. It will be interesting to see over the next ten to twenty years how retail culture will change and become more computerised. Perhaps as new generations get used to self service screens, they will never know that a person once used to serve them their goods.