By Emma Bott
Electronic kiosks are starting to become more prevalent in today’s businesses, and their appearance is simultaneous with the disappearance of jobs. Technology is starting to replace people’s jobs and leading to increased unemployment. According to CBC News, by 2022, there will be more than 400,000 self-checkout systems in North America.
In Amazon’s new store, there will be no cashiers, only machines to check you out. Seattle is now home to an Amazon Go convenience store which covers 1800 square feet. When a customer wants a product, they just go in, get it, and leave. The cost is charged to their Amazon account. The store will have sensor throughout it that will track what you have and will charge your account when you leave. A potential problem exists with this, however: what if you have something and put it back and the cameras do not catch it? Another feature of Amazon Go is that Amazon will be able to know what products you are interested in. They can keep recommending items to buy through them. The store will significantly reduce shopping time by eliminating time spent waiting in line for cashiers and self-service checkouts. The maximum employees that Amazon ideally wants to have employed is sitting at about ten people. The store will continue to have employees to stock the shelves–that is, until they have robots to do even that. Amazon only plans to have few physical stores, remaining mostly in their e-commerce world of less employees. The Chinese version of Amazon has now launched its own store without cashiers: Taobao is the e-commerce powerhouse of China. It operates in a system similar to Amazon.
At Walmart, there had previously been self-checkouts. Usually, for every six kiosks, there is one employee supervising and assisting. Some Walmarts have started testing a new system called scan-and-go. When customers enter the store, they will get a scanners the same way you’d get a cart or a basket; the scanner then produces a bill at the end. Customers then have the option to pay at self-checkouts or at the cashier and greeters at the door check the receipts like they often do now. The plan for twenty Canadian stores has a trial run of the system. Ikea also has self-checkouts that are often left unused in favour of cashiers. The reason for this is that a lot of Ikea’s products are big and awkward. Customers don’t want the hassle of wrestling with their purchases.
Another variant of this quick check-out trend is for fast food and coffee shops to make mobile ordering available and just pick up your order at the location. This is used in businesses such as Starbucks, McDonald’s, and Tim Hortons. Starbucks, for example, has a time-saving app which has led to an increased volume of orders. This increased volume has led to people waiting for their drinks for longer; congestion is still a major issue, it’s just where on the supply chain that congestion occurs that’s different. This has turned off walk-in customers because they believe the location to be too busy. How is Starbucks responding, you may ask? They are now creating restaurants where only app orders can be picked up. That means you cannot order or sit in this shop. This store is also being test-run in Starbucks’s home of Seattle. Starbucks labourers are being allocated to help assist with peak time rushes. Tim Hortons started their app-ordering system just last month. Their app was updated to accommodate. Customers pay through apple Pay or my adding a Tims Card or Credit Card. It is too soon to see how effective this system has been for Tim Hortons.
One of the purposes of these automated systems is decrease the labour costs by employing fewer people. Jobs are needed by people. It is estimated by CBC news that 42% of Canadian jobs are now at risk because of this automation trend.CBC outlines the top five jobs that are at risk; retail salesperson, administrative assistant, food counter attendant, cashier, and transport truck drivers. Jobs that pay less and have less education are most at risk. The effects of automation will impact the job market for the next 10-20 years according to CBC news. Having increased numbers of people unemployed will create a burden on unemployment insurance. Walmart for example has said that no employees have lost their jobs according to CBC News. But just because people have not lost their jobs does not mean work is being lost. Fewer employees are need in these automated workforces meaning employees will mostly likely be getting less hours. Also, these business are very likely to no longer hiring meaning that potential jobs are lost. Some places are planning to transfer employees to other sections. For many companies labour cost is expensive and decreasing the labour force saves money. There are a number of people who use automated systems that admittedly feel bad because they know that they are contributing to their fellow humans losing jobs.
With job automation, there will be less and less human contact during the shopping experience. The problem with job automation and customer service is that customers who are not technology savvy will become frustrated. While an increasing population have technology skills, there are still those who struggle. Businesses that have most or all of the checkouts automated will potentially lose these customers to stores that have humans at the cashiers. For many business, the automation is in due part to customer demands. In an instant gratified world, customers are no longer patients, they want to shop fast. It is important to remember that even technology malfunction and creates problem. Customers can forget about price check or price matching. People are becoming more and more introverted; dealing with people behind machines instead of in person. For many customers you have enjoyed the zero-human contact. For many businesses they are providing better customer service by no longer making their customers wait in line.
If we want to look at the root cause of this automated system of service where people are losing jobs to technology, we need to look at society. The way our society has developed has allowed for this to happen.