Sarah Biren
Sarah Biren
January 6, 2024 ·  4 min read

People are refusing to use self-checkout because it’ll “kill jobs”

As technology advances, computers take the place of jobs. For instance, back in the day, the phone operator was a real person behind a desk connecting phone calls. Nowadays, this is done instantaneously without anyone manually setting up the call. And as grocery and large-chain stores offer self-checkout, the cashier’s role looks like it may suffer the same fate. However, a 2018 Dalhousie University study found that one of 1,053 Canadians is refusing to use self-checkout. [1] Their goal is to keep up employment in these stores, but their efforts may prove futile.

Refusing to Use Self-Checkout to Save Jobs

Among these troops are Tom and Peggy Eburne. “We will resist as long as we can,” said Tom Eburne from Chilliwack, B.C. “I think any job loss is a step backward.”

Similarly, Dan Morris from Brockville, Ontario, also always uses a cashier. He’s aware of how stores’ stock of self-checkout stations is growing. “They’re trying to basically herd everyone in, get everyone used to the self-checkouts to continuously cut down on staff,” he said. “Machines don’t pay taxes, they don’t pay into the pension plan.”

However, these people may be fighting a losing battle. In the 2018 Future of Jobs report from the World Economic Forum, cashiers, along with bank tellers, are “expected to become increasingly redundant.” This is because “routine-based” roles are more easily replaceable by machines. [2]

“To kind of cling to an old model just because it involves workers is not something that companies and others are set up to do,” said Sean Mullin, executive director of the Brookfield Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship at Ryerson University in Toronto. Companies are eager to cut labor costs by making certain jobs automated. Keep in mind that retailers are threatened by online shopping, which makes cutting costs more imperative than ever to stay in business.”

Additionally, as shopping technology progresses, many companies will need to keep up to stay in business. 

Still, many shoppers are undeterred in refusing to use self-checkout. “Maybe the little bit we do makes no difference at all,” said Peggy Eburne. “But we like to stand by what we believe in.” [3]

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The Self-Checkout Debate

Previously a self-checkout attendant, Tyler Curtis, has a defense for the machines that are so hated by some. He writes that people tend to handle their own items with more care than a cashier would, creating less of a risk of cracked eggs or having a loaf of bread squashed under a watermelon. Also, self-checkout is often faster. There’s much less of a chance of getting stuck in a long line. [4]

However, many people refuse self-checkout, not on account of the job losses, but because they don’t like the extra labor. One retail cashier recalls his interactions with customers and self-checkout. “The customers hate self-checkout,” the cashier said. “I was on one of the registers, and a customer said to me, ‘Well, I don’t work here, so I don’t want to ring my own stuff up.’” The cashier added, “I was working in the self-checkout another day, and a guy told me, ‘Hey, give me your discount card; I rang my own stuff up, so I work here; I should use your discount card.’ I walked away.”

Retail workers also voice their frustration over the displacement caused by these machines. After all, they are at the forefront of this job loss. And self-checkout feels dehumanizing and shows how much their employers value them. “Technology is just going,” said another cashier. “They’re trying to figure out different things to cut costs. And so I’m the most costly thing there.”

Additionally, many self-checkout machines aren’t flawless. They could have poor technical functionality or be difficult to navigate for first-time users. Plus, it relies on somewhat of an honor system that opens up the potential for theft. Overall, this could result in a worse customer experience. Wary of the fate of cashiers or not, many shoppers refuse to use self-checkouts. [5]

The Cashier-Less Future

Like them or refuse them, self-checkouts are becoming more prominent. For instance, Amazon Go is a cashier-less store where people pick up items and leave — no checkout necessary. Then the Amazon Go app sends them a receipt of their purchases after they exit the store. Amazon has created an example of what shopping could be like in the future.

“When you have a strong leader in the market like Amazon, it creates a level of cultural awareness that can help kind of set the market,” said Andrew Lipsman, principal analyst for eMarketer. “And then you have other providers who are enabling the technology to compete with Amazon, so very quickly you can see how the whole market will move quickly over the next two or three years.[6]

However, the good news is that cashier jobs could be repurposed to customer support type roles. After all, shoppers often prefer human help and input, especially in electronics and similarly specialty stores. 

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  1. “Grocery Experience National Survey Report.Dalhousie University. Fall 2018
  2. “The Future of Jobs Report 2018.World Economic Forum. September 17, 2018
  3. “’They kill jobs’: Meet Canadians who refuse to use self-checkout.CBC News. Sophia Harris. December 8, 2018
  4. In Praise of Self-Checkouts.Fee. Tyler Curtis. May 3, 2019
  5. “Black Friday shopping season sheds light on self-checkout and the curse of ‘so-so technologies’.Brookings. Molly Kinder. November 26, 2019
  6. “Amazon Go, the cashierless retail store of the future, has some new competition.CNBC. Jacob Douglas and Christopher Butler. November 12, 2019