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Interesting column in the Oakland Tribune by Drew Voros about the new Tesco-owned Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market stores opening in Northern California, in which the writer takes a highly critical view of the self-service checkouts used by the chain.


• “In a clear demarcation from other grocery stores, the U.K.-owned and operated Fresh & Easy chain offers only self-serve checkouts. Who needs staff when the shoppers can do all the work at the register ... When you are only buying a few things, self-serve checkouts are bearable and may even get you out of the store faster. But if you have to check out a heavily loaded grocery cart, you might feel like filling out a United Food and Commercial Workers union card when finished.”

• “Hunting and gathering food throughout the aisles is enough work for many of us. Being conscripted into performing clerical and bagging duties on top of shopping is asking a lot.

“Unfortunately, you can expect more self-serve checkouts in the future. The idea of replacing
checkers with shoppers is just too appealing for retail executives trying to fatten profit margins with fewer labor costs.”

• “Stand back and observe the neophytes taking to the register for the first time and you won't see much laughing or smiling, and no conga line will break out. Instead, you will see shoppers taking on pained expressions that come with doing unfamiliar and unpaid physical labor.”
KC's View:
I checked out the picture of the guy who wrote this column, thinking he must be, like 90. But he’s younger than I am.

Listen, I’ve always felt that retailers ought not use self-checkout just as a cost-savings measure, that they ought to take some of those checkout people and deploy them throughout the aisles. (And BTW...fewer labor costs can translate into lower prices. And that’s what Fresh & Easy is trying to sell.)

But rather than being so against the technology, maybe the columnist should have recognized that not every retail experience is for everyone...that Fresh & Easy is trying to carve out a distinctive niche, rather than doing what everybody else is doing...and that a lot of young people find self-checkout to be immensely appealing because it makes them feel empowered.