I Was that Trust-Fund Kid Working as a Supermarket Checker

I take that back. I wasn’t really a trust fund kid. But my grandfather was an Ag Scientist who shared the royalties from an erosion control plant he developed with his grandkids, so I did get a modest quarterly “weed money” check while I was a teenager, which was sort of like a trust fund. And as is likely for people with a PhD scientist in the family, I was affluent, a great student. And, when I was 14, a supermarket checker.

Which is why I find this pompous Peter Frase discussion, responding to these posts (and seconding Yglesias), about the relative value of grocery self-checkout lines so annoying. And since Frase says the supermarket checker I once was doesn’t exist–“You don’t see a lot of trust-fund kids or lottery winners working as supermarket checkers.”–I feel obliged to weigh in, not with all the PhD babble I’m credentialed to throw around, but with some real details.

This whole debate started when Atrios suggested supermarkets had implemented self-checkouts to eliminate jobs.

It isn’t possible for me to know, but I’ve long been puzzled by the widespread adoption of self-service checkouts in supermarkets and other places. It didn’t seem to me that the additional capital costs would really be offset by labor cost reductions. They still require at least one hovering employee to deal with problems and card people for alcohol purchases. In addition, people aren’t very fast at using the machines so you need a higher number of machines/user to speed people through the line. We may not see “supermarket cashier” as a super high skilled position, but the fact remains that doing it well, as with most things, does in fact require skill. A good cashier is fast and accurate, checking people out more quickly and more efficiently.

So I’m not totally surprised that they’re pulling back a bit, though I’m sure the next scheme promising a reduction in personnel will be embraced as soon as it comes along… [my emphasis]

At which point, as the debate wore on, his central point–backed by the article he linked–was increasingly ignored: checkout machines end up not being the great deal for supermarkets they once thought they’d be.

So let me say this.

I was a damn good supermarket checker. I took great pride in what a good supermarket checker I was. It involved knowing all the codes for vegetables cold, knowing where the buttons for large items were. It involved being physically fit–with a lot of standing and bending and twisting–as well as the ability to get in a zone where you’re consistently scanning an item in one movement without breaking the rhythm of that movement, passing the item from one hand to another, left hand right hand left hand right hand. Since I was quick and consistently got the busiest registers, being a damn good supermarket checker also involved chumming up to the bagboys to make sure I always had someone bagging to keep up with my checkout pace (and, frankly, I was a pretty crummy bagger, which tended to piss off the rich ladies we served in that store when I did do their bagging). And in spite of the fact that machines are supposed to do the math for you, you do end up having to do math when the rich ladies throw weird amounts of money at you.

So I come to these self-checkout machines with a bit of expertise on how they compare to a trained supermarket checker. I was curious to use them when they first came out–I admit I wanted to see whether I still had that old touch. And now, I buy so little in big grocery stores that I’ve consistently got just a few items when I do check out in a store with self-checkout lanes, so I use the machines to avoid the long lines of people with very full carts.

Even as someone who once was a damn good supermarket checker, the machines are much less efficient. Partly, that’s because I don’t know all the codes now, and I tend to buy odd fruits and vegetables–things like key limes and nopales–that aren’t loaded into the machine properly. Partly, that’s because those self-checkout machines aren’t built to allow you to get into that Tayloresque rhythm. Partly, that’s because you’ve got a suboptimal bagging set-up (and, no, I’m still not a very good bagger, but luckily I’ve just got myself to blame now).

The point being, at least from my somewhat informed position, Atrios’ guess is correct. Those machines aren’t very efficient. And while I wasn’t unionized as a grocery checker (so my labor was really really cheap), I would imagine even union supermarket checker wages are less than these inefficient machines, to say nothing of consumer satisfaction.

Which is another way of seconding Atrios’ supposition that these machines, in spite of the fact that they replaced workers with machines, were not productivity improvements.

But that point–that replacing a worker with a machine does not always result in productivity gains–appears to have been entirely lost in the debate. djw ignored it when he accepted the terms of the debate as a choice between menial jobs or greater productivity through machines. Yglesias ignored it when he blathered about whether productivity growth was good or bad for workers. Frase ignored it when he called others conservative for exulting in the disappearance of machines that didn’t improve productivity.

So let me make the issue clear: We are talking about whether we should have machines (which lead to lower customer satisfaction) for machines sake or whether we should, in cases where people end up being more efficient and better for business than the machines, employ the people.

Choosing the first option–as Frase and Yglesias seem to do–is stupid for their cherished productivity and stupid for workers. (Note, the productivity battle they’re fighting is likely an earlier one, on whether to shift to scanning machines in the first place.)

Now, the simple return to employing real people instead of self-service machines will not make these great jobs. I didn’t have to keep up that standing and bending and twisting for a lifetime, and unlike my workmates who faced a lifetime of this work, I didn’t opt to sleep with the sexually harassing boss to get better work conditions. And even the bosses in that grocery store worked night jobs, mostly as cops, to survive on the low wages.

But rather than taking an example where machines turned out not to equate to productivity gains as an opportunity to establish new lefty litmus tests on whether machines are good or bad, the lesson here ought to be that not all claims that fewer workers equal more productivity turn out to be true.

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

40 replies
  1. mds says:

    But that point–that replacing a worker with a machine does not always result in productivity gains–appears to have been entirely lost in the debate.

    The other, related point, that this is actually a case of replacing a worker with customers, keeps getting missed too. Which is possibly why people keep failing to see that these machines don’t necessarily increase productivity. Sure, if Tobor the Aluminum whizzed around the store and presented me with the charge for my already-bagged groceries, or Counting Unit Alpha scanned and totalled my purchases faster than the human eye could follow, then there would be increases in efficiency and productivity. But stores have basically just turned the scanner around to face the customer, and offloaded a task that they used to have to pay someone for onto consumers, who may or may not be as efficient at it as the cashiers were. Of course, at least it comes with a substantial decrease in prices …. Hahahaha, sorry, couldn’t keep a straight face.

  2. emptywheel says:

    @mds: Bingo–that’s why I noted that the argument Yglesias and Frase thought they were making pertained to the introduction of the scanner machines in the first place. IIRC those weren’t without some dispute when they were introduced (when I used them, we were one of the first markets to have them).

    And they have considered that Tobor the Aluminum (is that an actual thing?), but it means that customers have to put up with RFID tags in all their purchases, which they don’t actually care for.

  3. John Casper says:

    I use them all the time. It’s rare that I see any customer not need a cashier to do at least one override.

    Those really expensive, hypersensitive scales force everything north on the supply chain to be ultra precisely packaged.

  4. rg says:

    I had to chuckle at your oblique reference to Taylor’s time and motion studies. I buy most of my food at our local coop, but still use the chains for some items, and therefore also like the convenience of the self ck-out. What I’ve noticed is that there is a range of user friendliness associated with the software. Some are intuitive, others require careful reading (and the small print requires reading glasses for some of us); all of which affects efficiency. At one store, the machines have been removed; when asking about this, I was told that there were problems with people not scanning all their items, resulting in unacceptable losses. I wonder what Abbie Hoffman would think of that.

  5. Karin says:

    @rg: I don’t know what Abbie Hoffman would say, but did the store owners not realize that these machines work on the honor system? The only place I see a benefit to me, to using the self-checkout is in a place like BJ’s, when I’m using someone else’s membership card, because there’s no cashier to notice the photo doesn’t match.

  6. posaune says:

    I was a grocery checker too! And a boarding school grad (interlochen)and I worked as a checker while going to julliard in nyc. And yeah, it was a hard job, really hard job: packing the bags correctly for someone to carry on a nyc street. I even got held up at gunpoint after I commented on how many Twinkies the customer had selected (never did THAT again). So yeah, a hard job and dangerous, too. Even more so these days.

  7. Nox Ninox says:

    With 7-8 billion people on this planet, we are experiencing a worldwide surplus of human labor the likes of which history has never known, and yet modern human innovation is obsessed with finding ever cleverer technologies to idle and suppress that enormous potential.

    Something’s gotta give.

  8. rosalind says:

    that Frase link has a link back to an earlier article of his that has this gem:

    But in the larger scheme of things, working at a supermarket checkout isn’t the kind of fulfilling and valuable work we really want to preserve…

    it is statements like this that provoke my deep loathing for certain members of academia.

    and fucking looove the royal “we”.

  9. emptywheel says:

    @rosalind: Right. It’s the job of the PhDs in this country (who, my experience and a lot of friends who grew up in much tougher circumstances notwithstanding, would NEVER need a flexible low skilled job) to decide we can just wipe away all those jobs.

  10. rosalind says:

    @emptywheel: man, that quote has really got me boiling. i’ve gone to the same market several times a week for years, to pick up fresh meat/poultry, and know all the checkers and they know me. these men and women love their good pay & benefits union jobs, do them well, with a smile. many are single women who support their children. once they get a checker job, they do not leave.

    and our check-out stand is another “rural post office” where the neighborhood locals catch up with each other and the state of the hood.

    one can only imagine what mr. frase would think of my college job: cleaning the dorms. while scrubbing toilets and wiping showers was not exactly fulfilling work, it paid better than what my older brother was making at his first post-college job.

  11. William Ockham says:

    I was a bagger in my senior year of high school in Norfolk, Nebraska. The other baggers thought the checkers had it easy because we had to go out in the cold, but I knew better because my mom was a checker (until a few years earlier when she slipped on paper grocery bag and became disabled). My kids have learned to put up with my endless complaining about the poor bagging my wife gets at the grocery store. Seriously, don’t they teach them to put the cold stuff all in the same bag? And not to put the detergent in with the meats or fruits and vegetables?

    Ok, old curmudgeon stuff aside, I’ll comment on the self-checkout automation. This is a classic case of management stupidity. Their imagination was limited to “lets replace the checker and bagger with a machine”. That’s not going to work for the obvious (to anyone who’s ever worked in a grocery store) reasons that Marcy lays out. I hate those things and I’m the sort of nerd who goes out of his way to avoid human contact (ATMs and buying stuff on-line are my favorite things).

    What they obviously need to do is make a smart grocery cart. One that reads the bar code on everything you put in (or take out) and bags your groceries. It’s totally doable. That idea is free to anyone who wants it…

  12. bmaz says:

    Okay, I will fully admit, trying to digest sage wisdom of the years from the barely, at best, 30 something new pundit class drives me apoplectic. Regularly. See: Klein, Ezra. That said, here I am not sure you are at direct odds with Yglesias and Frase, so much as looking at it from a different angle. That, and I do not believe the self check ability at the grocery is necessarily a great vehicle for the larger discussion at hand. The ones I have encountered are useful in some instances, and have distinct drawbacks in others. In no supermarket I have seen is it an either/or proposition. this is just not that clean.

    I will also say that the markets I go to do have the children of friends from East Phoenix, Scottsdale and Paradise Valley working as baggers. I see them commonly. Although, baggers may be a bit more temporary than the “checkers” which are usually long term older ladies.

  13. emptywheel says:

    @William Ockham: I suspect the real reason these checkout machines are not “productive” is because of increased theft, intentional or not. So your idea would have to get around that.

  14. emptywheel says:

    @bmaz: The point was Yglesias and Frase wanted to expound on productivity, as if these machines did increase productivity, when all the evidence says they don’t, notwithstanding the free labor.

  15. Desider says:

    these machines are awful. and they don’t smile worth crap. if they only knew how to tell a good joke or something, but they’re slow as hell and not very friendly either.

  16. posaune says:

    @emptywheel: I was at Safeway just yesterday, picked up a prepared sandwich, and decided to sit at one of their two tables and eat there. So, I got to sit in front of the self check-out. And saw one woman scan one package of oscar meyer ham, then put two in the bag; one cheese scanned, then two in the bag. And I couldn’t believe no one noticed. But that was because there was only one checker on duty and one manager trying to fix the coin machine. I got the impression they didn’t care either. Wonder if the accountants have the marginal utility of theft vs. a salary computed? They must.

  17. bmaz says:

    @emptywheel: Right! They really do increase productivity. To a point. But they are not necessarily direct trade offs for labor, because they are not so much one for one trade-offs for checkers, as efficiency multipliers for checkers. Indeed, the ones I have encountered, even the machines are monitored by a live human checkers (although it may be one checker for every two machines) to enter override codes on liquor, clear up non reads on the bar codes etc.

  18. emptywheel says:

    @bmaz: Well, it appears that if you measure productivity in terms of profit at the store, they don’t, which is why they’re being removed even after stores have sunk the investment in them.

    That’s part of the problem–those claiming they increase productivity are isolating the act, “check out” from what stores are supposed to do, which is get return customers to pay for a certain amount of food.

  19. Peterr says:

    With the exception of warehouse stores (Costco, for instance), most supermarkets spend a non-trivial amount of time and money to make the store look warm and inviting. A clever display here, an interesting set up there . . .

    . . . and then they plunk down Tobor the Aluminum, Counting Unit Alpha, and their friends right in the middle of it.

    *sigh*

    Neither Tobor nor CUA have ever smiled at me, inquired politely about how The Kid was doing, asked curiously what I was going to cook with the ingredients in my cart, or bantered with me over the proper way to marinate a brisket for BBQ. Not once.

    Yes, I’ve used the self-checkout lines, but they detract from the atmosphere of the store, and do nothing to entice me to return.

    Finally, it seems some of the management is beginning to see this.

  20. Sojourner says:

    I had a good laugh this past weekend in my handy-dandy Kroger store. Two years ago they went through a MAJOR upgrade to bring in all kinds of gourmet foods and cheeses. They added a number of the self-checkout devices which I abhor.

    Anyway, a couple of weeks ago I was in there and they were in the process of creating “teams” to compete and see who could get the most “points” in a variety of ways. What it amounted to was one team would yell when when a customer rang a bell to indicate “great service” and another team would yell about something else.

    This last weekend, Kroger had fully implemented the plan, if you can call it that! It sounded like a zoo! Customers were almost forced to ring bells to show that they had received great service from the checker, and other employees from around the store would whoop it up…

    From one extreme to another…

  21. MadDog says:

    @William Ockham: I started bagging as a freshman in highschool (to pay for schooling at a Xtian Bros JROTC where all male members of our clan went for the last several generations).

    EW would of loved me because I was bagging superstar. The checkers fought over me, but seniority there ruled. Fast, efficient, polite, and too timid to ask for a well-deserved raise. No more than one layer of canned goods at the bottom of the bag, and don’t pack the bag higher than 3/4 full.

    The little old lady who lived 2 blocks away and didn’t drive to the store in the middle of January in Minnesota? Why sure, I’ll tote your bags home for you.

    And I have to say that regular customers didn’t forget us bagboys at Xmas time with a nice $5 or even $10 tip.

    Those were the days!

    Now, unlike WO, I do use the self-checkout lanes exclusively, but that’s somewhat like EW because I generally have few items and the process is faster than waiting in the lanes with checkers.

    That said, I agree with all that the scanners used are still primitive and aren’t really setup for some really simple stuff like fresh fruit and vegetables.

    Productivity gains? I’m sure that the techies used that argument to sell the idea to management, or to brown-nose a management who was already driving it themselves, but like most, I doubt that at this stage that stores could truly identify a positive ROI.

    Will this technology prevail? Sadly, yes! I guess there will be enhancements to the technology that will help the usability and ROI, but I think the main reason that this technology will prevail (at least here in the US), is that in many ways it fits the American culture for both the customers and the businesses.

    I’m not saying that this is necessarily a good thing about American culture, but merely recognizing its existence.

  22. JohnLopresti says:

    I think there is some theme in Americana as nationhood which eons ago used to extoll the chastening experience of working in a grocery store. One of my parents did that for many years; another parent learned the ways of the aristocratic; the outcome for my generation was discoverying that being sequestered in the library learning quietly would yield criticism from the parent who had groceried, praise from the aristocratically inclined. The aggregate effect was that in alternating summers I incurred the wrath of alternating parents. I also opted to take a job at the library, a dusty, if spiritually rewarding experience somewhat akin to the rigors some trustfund kids endured. I know someone who took a union job in a closed shop which successfully compelled management to take out the automated equipment which had replace3d laborers; that company went out of business, mostly because of lack of vision in bureaucratic management for reasons unrelated. There is no local automated grocery checkout, but a home improvement store has developed a workable way to provide that option cost effectively. Professor Ockham might have heard that woz is trying to provide the world with rfid for the individual item, but some free speech and privacy advocates have taken stances in opposition; I understand that Arkansas low quality purveyor of merchandise has rolled out rfid at the pallet scale.

    As for Abbie, I think his view would have been more calm in his earliest time, although one sketch apparently reveals some of the guys had ordinary careers after the turbulent sixties, whereas the individual himself apparently had an untimely exit from the world. One of the biogs is there. I once knew a psychologist living in a new town far from her familiars and usual surroundings, where she flagged as some sort of telltale personal flaw her gradual behavioral shift whereby she began striking up conversation with grocery clerks. Soon she moved back into a metropolis, and probably enjoyed the return to the hum of city life once again. In a personal work experience, I had occasion to attend what are called livestock auctions, quite a few times; it was work, conversationality, and observational skill which were requisite; I doubt even the modern airport scanners could have served in that venue. Yet, in some of the corporate animal feedlot and confined-animal feeding operations (‘CAFO’s), I would imagine serial scanner applications cost-effective.

  23. William Ockham says:

    @emptywheel: See, that’s the beauty of it. You can’t put something in your cart (it’s “mouth” won’t open) unless you scan the bar code. At its simplest, that’s the end of the story. Then you push the cart out the door, your checking account is charged for the groceries in the cart, and the cart is unlocked for unloading into your car.

    This is designed for the people (like my family of 7) who are the biggest problem for checkers or self-checkout. When you are filling an entire cart, the whole process of loading the cart, unloading the cart for scanning, and then reloading the bags into the cart seems pretty idiotic. If my auto-cart could bag the groceries (which I think is simple enough and the cold stuff would end up the same bag(s) naturally because it’s all shelved together), it would be a real breakthrough in the way that self checkout will never be.

  24. John Powers says:

    There’s a wonderful book by Mike Rose entitled, “The Mind at Work.” Rose contends that by ignoring the thought involved in blue collar work we fail to acknowledge and respect a good portion of the working population. The presumption that work is mindless leads to all sorts of ugly management decisions. More generally imagining work as a thoughtless activity undermines social solidarity.

  25. emptywheel says:

    @MadDog: See, I knew I liked you!

    The sexual harassment at my store was so bad the front end was almost split into those of us cashiers not spending hours in the Manager’s office plus the bagboys, versus the cashiers who were, but who as a result got to work the main desk, meaning they did very little cashier work of the typical sort.

    And since I made a point to never go to the Manager’s office if I could help it, I was the bagboys’ hero (I think they interpreted responding to the Manager’s harassment slacking, and interpreted me as the only one working as hard as they had to going outside in the cold).

  26. jo6pac says:

    Never use them myself and if they don’t send a human I leave the product on the check out stand and go somewhere else.

  27. prostratedragon says:

    @Sojourner: Great scot, I hope I’ve missed my local Kroger’s verison (now we know where that name came from) of that extravaganza. They do seem to be slouching through some kind of metamorphosis up on Plymouth Road recently.

    At this store there are at least 6 of those talky scanny things, and the store rules are that after a certain hour, which seems to be ad hoc but might be either 10 or 11pm, one has to use them. There is a cashier on duty, often pretty busy. Before that hour, however, there usually are several machines available while the human cashiers have lines at their stations.

    I never use the machines by choice. When forced, I’ve noticed a tendency for all of us users to create these little islands around ourselves, and to permit others the same; there’s a real reluctance to use adjacent machines.

    The light came on a couple of days ago as I hurled my 30th “Shut the fuck up” in response to one of those mechanical exhortations to do what I in fact was doing. Many of us cuss out loud at the thing. Even if you don’t really hear it, and years of city living can make one impervious to conversations occuring right next to one, the static clouds rising from the scene warn one off.

    On my worst days I have never told a random person with whom I was personally engaged in commerce to shut the fuck up. Interaction with other human beings is what keeps us civil.

  28. P J Evans says:

    @posaune:
    The supermarket I got to that has checkout machines usually has someone there to ‘help’. I don’t know if they watch to make sure everything gets scanned, but it’s where they could easily put in video cams to monitor.

    I don’t like the checkout machines: these are ‘talking’ and don’t slow down long enough for me to catch up to the instructions (which are out of order, IMO). So I stand in line like most other people, and get to say hi to the checker and the bagger.

  29. Jim White says:

    I worked in a grocery store my last two years of high school and first couple of summers in college. This was in the pre-scanner days, and I became really fast at reading the price stamped on an item, punching the buttons that would input the price and then pulling the lever to add the item to the accumulating total. We didn’t have produce codes: we had a list of prices per pound. I was able to calculate the sales tax faster than I could find it on the card propped up beside the register.

    This was a small town and the group of five or six of us high schoolers took great pride in the manager saying we were his best young crew he’d had. We worked our butts off, allowing the store to have a smaller crew on duty than if we were slacking. We did everything: bagging, checking, stocking the shelves and unloading the semi-trailer once a week. It was a wonderful time even though the pay under $2 an hour (yes, I’m THAT old) because we all got along so well that the time passed quickly. I probably didn’t need the money, as my father had a good income for those days, but I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything.

    One thing that made that such a wonderful experience was the degree of trust that management had in us when they allowed us high school kids to work alongside the handful of full time older folks and to even move up to similar levels of responsibility. I think that individualized building of trust in employees is one thing that is sadly missing in today’s supermarkets. Everything is based on volume out the door with no allowance for paying attention to individual customers. In fact, both the employees and the customers have become depersonalized because management today has realized everyone has to eat and is likely to choose a grocery store by location rather than service. Management also realizes jobs are so scarce they can treat their employees like dirt.

    So in the end, it is the loss of a feeling of community that has produced an attitude where it was even possible to contemplate replacing cashiers with machines. There is very little group spirit among the employees and the customers expect indifferent treatment, so of course management could assume cashiers and machines are interchangeable.

  30. djw says:

    replacing a worker with a machine does not always result in productivity gains

    Oh, definitely. And in this case I’m strongly inclined to agree that this is probably one of those cases. This angle was pretty widely discussed in the comments to Erik’s post, and I was engaging in a sort of “even on your terms” exercise.

  31. pdaly says:

    @Desider:

    They are also loud as hell. I try to be as efficient as possible to avoid the bellowing recorded voice which “helpfully” steps me through the process.

    Everything goes well until I try to upright the toppled half gallon of milk on the conveyor belt, and then the anti-theft routine kicks in, conveyor belt reverses direction, milk returns to the scanner bed, and the bellowing recorded voice yells at me to rescan item taken off the conveyor belt, etc.

    I,too, dislike the auto-check out.

    Plus, you cannot buy a gift card in the auto-checkout line without waiting for the circulating person with the key and know-how to activate the gift card. When you are in a rush in this case, the auto-checkout line is a mirage of efficiency.

  32. emptywheel says:

    @Jim White: Jim, curious (partly bc WO explained) where was this?

    And yes, you were in a pre-scanner day, and that was an entire different question of productivity.

    I worked w/IBM secretaries when they were shifting from being master typists to being master bureaucrats. An interesting time. That’s the moment, though, where this productivity question plays out–not when the owners ask the customers to do the work the owners used to pay for.

  33. dustbunny44 says:

    I haven’t used many self-checking machines but I’ve never met one that was completely intuitive, in fact I’m put off by them because when I get there I want to check out, not spend time reading how to check out and then how to recover from the “mistakes” I’m making. My library has self-checkout machines and they can never do the job completely, I have to step over to the human so they can research why the book won’t scan or to unlock the CD case that the self-service machine couldn’t handle.
    Productivity is a subjective value made up of objective measurements. I appreciate being able to get cash at midnight and not having to visit the teller during business hours, not having to walk into the gas station to pay the cashier directly. Generally and globally the study of processes and the application of technology has resulted in improvement, but that doesn’t mean one particular thing is necessarily improved (like a checkout process, for example), and it doesn’t mean we take at face value anyone’s proclamation of anything: Republican politics of the last 30 years has taught us that we are often lied to, situations are often misrepresented, and that no one cares enough to correct it after the fact.

  34. hijean831 says:

    I recall when Apple used to manufacture in the US, the original Mac Factory had a state of the art parts-picking system, with robotic carts trundling around the floor. They dumped them almost immediately, as they got in the way of the humans hustling around, plus they were just too slow at their jobs.

  35. Jim White says:

    @emptywheel: This was in that grand metropolis where the Dalton gang met their demise: Coffeyville, Kansas. Sadly, the store burned to the ground while I was home for Thanksgiving break my junior year. I got there just a couple minutes too late to help many of the old crew who voluntarily went in to wheel out what valuables they could salvage before the fire got too far into the building.

  36. Kathleen says:

    Krogers (union) introduced those automatic checkers a year ago or so. Told the manager that they might push me to shop at Wal Mart. Not really.

    Can not stand them especially at 7 am when I generally shop. Having a machine talk to me drives me to cliff. Cash, your number, do you have your own bag, coupons, put the first item…I get closer to the cliff.

    Jobs for humans. Union wages

  37. catpal says:

    less human-being operated cashiers in grocery stores — also means less need for grocery bagger people — and many of those grocery baggers are from the intellectually disabled population.

    the grocery stores in my area are the largest group of employers of intellectually disabled persons.

    so please use a human-being cashier and their helpful grocery bagger person. Thanks.

  38. Mauimom says:

    @William Ockham:

    What they obviously need to do is make a smart grocery cart. One that reads the bar code on everything you put in (or take out) and bags your groceries.

    In the DC area, Giant Food has a system that’s almost like this. When you enter, you “sign in” and pick up a mobile scanner, plus some bags [if you haven’t brought your own]. Then you stroll down the aisles, pick out your items, scam ’em & put them in the cart/bag. [There’s even a system for bagging/weighing/scanning your produce, salad bar, donuts, etc.]

    Then, when you get to the register, you wave your scanner thing-y across the reader. It gives you the total [it’s provided you a running total while you were shopping] and asks you to pay.

    I love it. Super fast. Unfortunately, I don’t live there any more.

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