business news in context, analysis with attitude

Got the following email from MNB reader Paulette DeRito:

Some observations on the self-checkout issue. Today as I used the self checkout option in Wilton, CT Stop n Shop, I took note of all the various steps one must complete when checking out that way.

1.  Scan your Stop n Shop card/tag..... if you have it on a keychain it might pick up other tags also, and then doesn't work, and already you have to have a person come help you.

2. Do you need a bag? 

3. Scan your items.....where is the UPC?

4. Scanning a produce item......which picture is it? This is the worst.....different apples, avocados,'s confusing.

5. If I put my items directly in my bag it doesn't register on the scale and again a person has to help me.

6. I must bag my own items which can be difficult for an older person

7. How am I paying? Debit, credit, gift card, cash...too many options. If Iḿ paying cash, where do I even put the cash? ANd if I have a coupon, where does it go? Why don't they label these slots?

8. Do I want to round up? No, I don't, but how many senior citizens understand what this even means? And do they get tricked into saying yes. This always bothered me when a check out person asked a senior if they wanted to donate to a specific cause.......sometimes the question is asked so quickly and with an accent that the person has no way of understanding, and just nods their head yes. 

The entire process is difficult. If others are waiting in line it's even more stressful since we know they are all watching us navigate the self checkout.

The world is not favoring older people, which is sad.  Maybe the stores can have some senior friendly check out stations. I also noticed that Shake Shack now has only ordering on screens. The place where you put your debit card did not even have a label that said ¨insert card here.¨  How are we supposed to know all this?

Some of this group probably has limited vision/hearing which makes the entire process more difficult also.  If companies develop a senior friendly self checkout, they would be smart to consider this.....stores are noisy now...there´s music, people talking, etc…..

Itś sad to lose the social connection of the check out line. I see many seniors engaging with the check out person, and this may be the only social interaction they have all day.  Yes, some young workers are more interested in talking to their bagger than engaging with the customer,  but the older workers seem so do a good job with this.

I know this sounds like a rant, and maybe it is. I'ḿ only 69 years old, and I can navigate this stuff pretty well after a few times doing it, but I can see the future is not kind to old people. I have a 93 year old mother in law .....she doesn't have a computer....she cant access anything online...and everything is ¨visit our website at......¨

We're about the same age, and I get your points, which is why I think that offering choice is the preferred approach for retailers, at least for the moment.

One thing, though.  I always am friendly with checkout folks.  But I've never considered it a "social connection."

And from another MNB reader:

I read your piece on how some grocery stores are going to all self-checkout lanes at their stores. Here are some of my thoughts.

I try not to use self-checkout lanes for two reasons:

  1. Self checkout lanes are putting people out of work.

2) The customer is doing all the work. They’re ringing up the groceries and bagging them, then still paying the same price for the products. 

I think if these grocery stores would share with their customers some of the savings they are getting by reducing their staff, these lanes would be used more. Maybe if they gave their customers a discount on their purchases, such as a percentage off or a fixed amount off of their groceries they would get more people to use them. Until they do that, most people I know will not use them. Just my thoughts.

First of all, everyone is within their rights not to use self-checkout.  Or, in the unlikely event that your local supermarket converts to being all-self-checkout, go to another supermarket.

Second, you say that self-checkout lanes are putting people out of work.  But many stores are under-staffed these days, so one could argue that at least at this time, they're compensating for a lack of personnel availability.

Third, you're making a big assumption.  If self-checkout indeed reduces a retailer's costs, maybe they're already sharing those savings with you.  Maybe if they did not have self-checkout and had a higher labor factor, their prices would be higher.

I would agree that if this were the case, supermarkets should do a better job telling that story.  But if you think things are confusing now, can you imagine how weird things would get if people using self-checkout got an automatic discount compared to people using staffed checkouts.  Or if supermarkets decided to assess a fee on you because you use a staffed checkout lane rather than self-checkout?

By the way, would you also then suggest that people using ATMs should pay lower bank fees that people who use tellers?  I seem to remember that Citibank tried to do this - assessing fees on all bank transactions taking place at a teller window rather than at an ATM - in a test on New York City's Upper West Side.  It didn't last long - they picked a neighborhood that at the time had the largest concentration of New York Times reporters and editors, and let's just say that the experiment got an outsized level of media attention.

The bottom line is this.  The vast majority of grocery stores - like 99.9 percent - will, if they offer self-checkout, also have staffed checkout lanes.  People will have a choice.  At least until these grocers decide to install checkout-free technology, which will make the whole argument moot.  (Out of curiosity, will you not patronize such stores because they've put checkout people out of a job?)

Finally, this email from another MNB user regarding yesterday's FaceTime video:

A couple of thoughts about your comments in front of the “Stan the Man” Musial statue. You stressed the value of history… I concur and was offended by the number of statues destroyed over the last few years in America. We need to understand our history, both the good and the bad that allowed America to become the great country we are.

Secondly, honoring people in organizations has great value.  The UCLA chapter of Sigma Nu established a $10K annual scholarship honoring our most outstanding active member in memory of one of our alums, Lt. Gerald Coffee, USN who was a seven-year Vietnam POW and renowned inspirational speaker. New members of the fraternity learn about him as of the process of becoming an active member.  Heroes are hard to come by… let’s honor them.

I agree with your second point.

As for your first point, to my knowledge the vast majority of the statues that have been removed from public spaces over the past few years have been of historical figures who were - how shall I put this? - on the wrong side in the Civil War.  They were - how shall I put this? - traitors.  They betrayed their country and tried to destroy the United States in a Civil War.

I agree that we need to understand the good and bad in our past.  That's what books are for, which are kept in libraries (and now, online) so that all people have access to them.  That's what schools are for, so teachers can instruct their students in actual history.

Y'think that if the Confederate States of America had won the Civil War there would be a lot of statues of Abraham Lincoln left standing?

But more to the original point I was making yesterday, I don’t think a business would erect a statue to someone who left the company and started a rival and tried to poach other employees from it, no matter how good he or she was while there.