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Technology and Humans

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Technology: Self-checkout lanes hurting the economy and customer satisfaction
During the 1900’s America was recognized as a national powerhouse with a strong economy that offered citizens careers and economic stability. Today, we are fighting unemployment and recovering from an unstable stock market. Although many factors have impacted the economy since then, one factor that goes unnoticed is the growth in technological advancements and how it is directly affecting employment rates and customer satisfaction. Machines used to be basic, and controlled by people, but since technology has progressed machines are now capable of performing jobs solely on their own. Police officers are being replaced by camera lights, cashiers by self-service checkout machines, and operators by automated voice recognition machines. Technology, more specifically self-checkout machines are directly affecting our economy; it’s eliminating jobs and leaves customers feeling unsatisfied. The problem with today’s technology is that it is self-reliant, such as the CHEC software program which runs all IBM self-checkout machines. IBM mentions on their website how it “Offers retailers a totally integrated self-checkout solution that can effectively manage and help lower total cost of ownership (TCO).” They are trying to appeal to managers that the total cost of operations will undeniably decline if you buy their product. Aside from lower total cost of operations these machines have their advantages and disadvantages.
IBM mentions all the advantages on their website like any other company would but the managers may be overlooking a major flaw which is customer satisfaction. IBM advertises its self-service machine as one that’s smaller than the traditional check-out lane, and therefore optimizes floor space, improves cash management with cash recycling and security through a separate payment module, and speeds checkout to maximize efficiency. The flaw is that it does not enhance the user’s experience; in fact it does the opposite. One of the amenities of going to the food store is having the cashier check your groceries and bag them, so why are managers and owners taking that away from a customer’s experience? According to British Broadcasting Corporation News, research suggests that 48% of Americans think self-service checkouts are a nightmare- neither quick nor convenient. The research also showed 46% of customer’s couldn’t scan their items correctly, 39% can’t use their own bags, 13% of the customers didn’t like that they were doing all the work, and 12% of customers felt they always needed to wait for assistance. This survey by BBC news should be a clear indicator for store managers that customers prefer the old-fashioned system.
When I am home I generally go to the food store once a week to either run errands for my parents or to pick up something for myself. Generally when walking towards checkout I look for the shortest line or customers with the least amount of groceries in their cart, but occasionally I’ll use the self-checkout lane. The first question it asked me was if I have a membership to the store, and of course my parents do, but I had forgotten to take their card. If I had seen a regular cashier he would have most likely just looked mine up or scanned his own, but because I was in the self-service lane I didn’t bother calling over a representative and paid full price instead. Halfway through my order I had to scan my bananas, which have to be looked up in the system’s directory, and as a first time user, of course it took me longer than it would have taken a cashier. I also had to listen to “Please scan your item and place it on bag area” fifty two times over. I have never warmed up to the whole self-checkout machines in the first place, but by the end of the process I found it to be more stressful and more time consuming than expected. When I do it myself five times out of ten the machines have an error and a supervisor has to come override the machine; a cashier is much more efficient than a machine, and better able to handle customer requests than a machine is. I am not the only generation affected by this movement in technology. Older people, who have been going to the food stores for years now, also feel the effects. Most of the elderly aren’t very experienced with newer technology and therefore prefer a cashier to a check-out machine. These machines are important because the food industry will always be there and is currently one of the largest in the world and will remain to be.
The reason I am targeting grocery stores and self-service checkout lanes is because they were ranked among the largest industries in 2008 by the United State Department of Labor and are consequentially affected by increased technology and its impact on customer satisfaction. Surveys show that in 2008, there were approximately 85,200 grocery stores throughout the nation; in addition grocery stores are open more hours and days than most work establishments. The average workweek for most employees is 33.6 hours with a minimum pay of $8.00 and a max of around $17.00 and this job also offers them job security because they become members of a union. These food stores provide 2.5 million wage and salary jobs which offer flexible hours and good pay, by introducing more and more self-service machines we are taking occupations away from this industry. The survey goes into even more depth and explains how cashiers make up the largest occupation in grocery stores, accounting for thirty percent of all workers. This is only the start though self-service is growing. A research study conducted by IHL Consulting Group finds that North American consumers are projected to spend over $525 billion at self-checkout lanes, ticketing kiosks and other self-service machines in 2007, up from $438 billion in 2006 (IHL Consulting Group, 2007). For the future, the group predicts an 18 percent increase in 2008 and estimates the dollar value of self-checkout transactions should reach $1.3 trillion by 2011. The problem is that people are becoming replaceable, which will most definitely affect our economy and how consumers feel. Although these machines are more accurate than humans, managers have to make a decision: is accuracy more important than customer satisfaction? Ideally managers and owners have to be willing to sacrifice cost of operations for customer satisfaction while still using these machines. These machines are a great advancement in society they are accurate and will not make the common errors humans make. Currently most stores are half and half, self-service checkout lanes and cashier run lanes, and although this doesn’t get rid of self-service machines and there advanced technology it does off customers the option to choose between the two. For the younger generation and those willing to do their own work; the self-service machines will be available and an option for those willing to wait online to see a cashier. This not only gives customers the option but allows some cahiers to maintain their jobs and slowly introduce the new technology to customers who are willing to give it a try. The other realization is that companies are trying to downsize instead of having a mass layoff.
According to authors L. Gayle Rayburn and J. Michael Rayburn of Journal of Leadership Studies downsizing fits the exact description of what I recognized with the introduction of self-checkout machines in food stores. They came to the conclusion that “Downsizing in itself will not necessarily produce efficiency, improve business processes, or automatically lead to increased customer satisfaction. The result is demoralization of the work force, loss of skilled and experienced workers, disruption of production schedules, and an increased probability of unionization or strikes.” What we don’t know is if food stores are doing this to protect us from potential mass layoff or just downsizing to make a profit. Although customer satisfaction is crucial and being loyal to your workers is important to companies, shareholders continue to demand that their interest be the organizations primary responsibility. With that said if a company is struggling to stay afloat it must change, and unfortunately these machines allow managers to do so.
The advancement in technology is going to continue to rapidly grow in our lifetime because of its advantages. Managers and owners capable of using these technologies at their stores dispense have to realize, the affect they are having on the economy as well as on their consumers. Newer is not always better, their customers range from elders to teens and some people don’t know how to work the self-checkout lanes and would prefer to wait and be serviced by a cashier the old fashioned way. These machines are a step in the right direction towards an error free system, but the solution may just be to make cashiers operate them instead deeming them self-service checkout lanes. The food industry offers lots of jobs to citizens and cashiers in particular; taking away these jobs would cause a step backwards in our effort to get back the way the economy was in the 1900’s.

Work Cited

IHL Consulting Group (2007), "Consumers on track to spend $1.3 trillion a year at self-service machines by 2011", available at:www.ihlservices.com/ihl/press_detail.cfm?PressReleaseID=55.

Winterman, Denise. "The Problem with Self-service Checkouts." BBC News. BBC, 12 Sept. 2009. Web. 26 Mar. 2012. <http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/8399963.stm>.

"Bureau of Labor Statistics." Www.bls.gov. United States Department of Labor. Web. 25 Mar. 2012. <http://www.bls.gov/oco/cg/cgs024.htm>.

"IBM Self Checkout System 6." - Features and Benefits. Web. 26 Mar. 2012. <http://www-03.ibm.com/products/retail/products/self/sco6/features.html>.

Dwane, Dean H. "Shopper Age and the Use of Self-service Technologies." Search.proquest.com. Emerald Group Publishing, Limited, 06 June 2010. Web. 26 Mar. 2012. <http://search.proquest.com/abiglobal/docview/198030680/135B5C254757081337F/7?accountid=8576>.
Rayburn, Gayle L., and Michael J. Rayburn. "Does Downsizing Result in Sustained Improvements?" Does Downsizing Result In Sustained Improvements? Questia. Web. 28 Mar. 2012. <http://www.questia.com/googleScholar.qst?docId=5001503188>.…...

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