Self-checkout stations looked like a great way to redundify human clerks and make marginal retail outlets proftable again, but it isn't working out. Dollar General is the latest major chain to report plans to get rid of them.
Dollar General had aggressively expanded self-checkout stations, adding them to more than half of its approximately 19,000 stores. The company also piloted stores with only self-checkout options and no cashier lanes. Like other retailers, Dollar General bet self-checkout would reduce its labor costs and speed up checkout for customers. … The company revised its self-checkout strategy to improve sales and cut down on merchandise losses, known as "shrink." Shrink includes shoplifting, employee theft, damaged products, administrative errors, online fraud and other factors.
"It helps on the sales line because we've got somebody to meet, greet and ring up the customer," Vasos said. "It also helps on the shrink line because (we've) got somebody at the front end of the store that is always there to monitor" the area.
I wouldn't put too much stock in Business Class stories based on press releases from retailers—especially ones that talk vaguely about shoplifting to cover the consequences of backfiring, customer-hostile choices. But a lot of people really do hate self-checkout, the shopping equivalent of an automated phone menu.
I've taken to calling this second category, simply, shitty automation. Shitty automation usually, but not always, comes about when new user-facing technology is adopted by a company or institution for the ostensible reason of minimizing labor and cutting costs. Nobody likes wading through an interminable phone menu to try to address a suspect charge on a phone bill—literally, everyone would rather speak with a customer service rep. But that's the system we're stuck with because a corporation decided that the inconvenience to the user is well worth the savings in labor costs.