When We are All Replaced

Grocery shopping each week is tough.

Or more accurately, choosing the right grocery store each week is tough.

We have so many options from general grocery stores to more specialized stores. Some have good produce. Others have reliable meat sections. Sometimes we choose based on what we need that week.

But the store we shop at the most is a relatively new location of a chain that’s been in our area for about a decade.

As a bonus, they also offer samples in the deli and bakery departments. So that makes my oldest son happy.

I’m happy when we finish shopping and find that my favorite cashier is working.

What makes her my favorite cashier?

She’s friendly. She greets me with a smile and asks if I found everything I needed.

She’s efficient. She knows the codes for produce so that she doesn’t have to stop and look them up. She’s organized in the way she packs the bags.

She pays attention. For certain items she asks if I want them packed. When my son is with me she asks if I want help taking my groceries to my car.

When I go through her line I know that my shopping trip will end on a good note.

I’m really going to miss her when robots take over her job.

Hopefully that won’t be for a long time, but it’s coming.

Maybe not robots. More than likely cashiers will eventually be replaced by self-service registers.

The store where I shop already has them. I avoid them because other shoppers don’t know how to use them. There’s nothing more frustrating than waiting in line while someone searches and searches the screen for pomegranates when the actual code is on the sticker on the pomegranate.  

I tell my wife that I’ll start using them when the stores require that shoppers pass a test before they can use them.

While testing likely won’t arrive anytime soon, I see more self-service registers in stores and fewer lines staffed by people.

Unfortunately these are the types of jobs that are easily replaceable because they require repetitive tasks and little technical skill. In reality the computer is already doing most of the work by scanning, tabulating, and accepting payment for the order. The cashier only serves as the arms for the computer.

In the self-service register, the customer provides the arms for the computer.

The real value cashiers provides is a positive attitude and friendly service.

Twenty years ago I think that having employees provide that service was important to large businesses. I don’t think that is the case anymore.

Now competition is so tight, and brick and mortar stores are trying to survive the internet. It’s incredible how much I, as a consumer, can do from my computer. I haven’t stepped into a store to do holiday shopping in years. Ordering groceries and food delivery is becoming more common. I hear advertisements on the radio for websites selling mattresses online.

To survive, let alone thrive, businesses are looking for ways to be more efficient and make their processes more cost-effective. This often means replacing some of the highest costs (labor) with lower-costing (computer) processes.

Although businesses need to focus on profit, I wonder at which point it becomes a detriment.

I went into a store a few weeks ago to get a part for my lawn mower, and I passed the online pick-up area. This is the place where customers who place an order online go to pick up their item. Instead of having a human waiting to meet the customer, there was a computer and a sign instructing customers how to enter their order number. Once the information was entered, an employee would bring out the item.

Now if I order something online from this store, the store has found a way to lower the cost of the process by reducing the human interaction.

So what’s the difference between them and any of their competition? They’ve commoditized the process to where it’s the same experience as any store. I now only have to find who has the item in stock for the lowest price.

What business wants to compete on price? No wonder this store is closing locations across the country.

I want to shop at stores that are happy to have me. I want to spend my money where people are friendly and provide good service. I’m all for efficiency and doing things better, but what we may have gained in efficiency we seemed to have lost in the soul of business.

That’s the real value my favorite cashier provides the grocery store. She’s not labor to be reduced. She’s the difference between this store and the dozens of other grocery stores I could shop. She’s the reason I’ll pay a little more or drive a little farther to get to that store.

And if they’ll get rid of the self-service registers I’ll be even happier.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s