By Megan Sayles,
AFRO Business Writer,
A letter to big-box retailers like Target, Walmart and Giant Food, is currently circulating through social media, criticizing the stores for the rising use of self-checkout. It speaks on a common experience that shoppers encounter when leaving a store.
Some retailers have associates positioned at store exits to check receipts and verify that customers have paid for all the items in their cart. In the aforementioned letter, individuals expressed their disdain for this practice, particularly after they’ve been forced to ring up and bag groceries by themselves at self-checkout.
“You can either trust me to do self-checkout, or you can put your cashiers back in place like it used to be. I’m not interested in proving that I did your job for you,” the letter, from Roshell Washington’s Facebook post, reads. “If you want me to be a cashier with no training then that’s your problem, not mine. Keep employing young people and giving them job opportunities. You don’t pay me to scan my own shopping. You don’t give me a staff discount for working for you.”
Augusta, Ga. native Michael Meyers thinks retailers should give customers a discount when they use self-checkout or self-serving kiosks. He noted that he often sees store associates standing around self-checkout areas without being attentive to customers.
“What bothers me the most is [stores] will only have self-checkout available, and then people are standing around doing nothing,” Meyers said. “It’s different when staffing issues cause it to happen, but we are seeing people standing around talking on their cell phones or playing a game.”
Although he said that self-checkout is helpful, particularly for people who only want to purchase a few items, it has led to a decline in customer service.
“If we’re going to self-checkout only, how are stores going to give back to customers? If I am checking out myself, that’s man hours that they didn’t have to use,” said Meyers. “Because they don’t use the man hours, I want to see a discount.”
In spite of the criticism, Walmart, Kroger and Dollar General have already begun to pilot self-checkout only stores. The retailers claim they reduce long lines and serve more customers in a shorter period of time.
“We hear far more from customers who like the flexibility of self-checkout. We consistently work to provide our customers with the best possible experience,” said Amanda Foster, director of global communications for Walmart. “Should someone have a concern, we ask them to immediately speak to a member of management who will be happy to help.”
A common concern regarding the use of self-checkout is whether it causes cashiers to lose their jobs. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, cashier employment is expected to decrease by 10 percent, or 335,700 positions from 2021 to 2031.
However, it’s possible these cashiers will transition into new roles at retailers. At Walmart’s self-checkout-only store in Fayetteville, Ark., the cashiers have become “hosts,” according to a news release from Walmart. They guide customers to open registers, and if a customer does not want to check themselves out, they step in to ring up and bag items.
According to Foster, Walmart does not intend to reduce staffing or individuals’ work hours because of self-checkout use.
“Self-checkout frees up our associates to better serve customers, no matter how they shop with us,” said Foster. “From helping on the floor with questions to working with our online, delivery or pickup teams, our intent is this expanded flexibility will create a better overall experience.”
As Walmart expands self-checkout use, some stores have decided to cut down on it due to an increase in theft. According to the National Retail Federation, stores suffered $94.5 billion in losses in 2021. The primary cause for these losses was theft.
In addition to increased security and the closures of secondary entrances, Giant Food has decided to limit its self-checkout lanes to 20 items in response to rising theft.
“We are implementing some new processes to mitigate theft in our stores and prioritize the safety of our customers and associates. We have implemented these changes in many of our stores and will continue to test other theft prevention tactics in other stores,” said Jon Arons, community relations manager for Giant Food. “We know that these changes are disruptive for everyone, and we would prefer not to have to put these measures in place. Unfortunately, at this time we are in a position where these steps are necessary.”
Megan Sayles is a Report for America Corps member.