Friday, June 18, 2010

U-Scan: Scourge of My Retail World

Our local CVS has had "U-Scans," aka "Self-Checkout" stations, for the 10 months we've lived here. I consciously refuse to use them: I always smugly head to the actual cashier's stand with my intended purchases so I can buy stuff from an actual person.

Recently, much to my dismay, this store instituted what is basically an all-U-scan system. Now, there is NO ONE ever at the cashier's stand. There are, I think, four U-Scans and that is all you can do unless you demand to see a cashier. I am pretty angry about this.

First, I think it is an over-mechanization of life, and contributes to unemployment, which sucks. There is a moral, job-creation element to this - whenever I am in a store with self-checkout and someone asks me if I would like to use self-checkout, I respond, rather loudly, "no, I like for people to have jobs." Same goes for movie theater tickets and subway tokens. I like to interact with the person working there as much as possible. At the same time, to be honest, for all my smugness, I am not 100% consistent on this issue. I order stuff online sometimes, even though I could probably find 75% of what I need in a store. I treasure my EZ Pass because it speeds up my trip, even though it contributes to depriving often unionized workers of having the hours they deserve. But U-Scan gets my goat, every time, because unlike the other things that I guiltily do, those U-Scan machines do not reduce hassle, cannot do what cashiers can do, and only serve to cut the company's overhead, not serve the customer.

Second, as part of the SERVICE industry, CVS, in my opinion, is making a huge mistake here by not providing SERVICE. Two annoying things happen with U-scan: 1) it assumes you steal stuff. Since I've been forced to use these horrible things, I've encountered some obnoxious scanner behavior. Paraphrasing the automatic scanner voice: "Put the item back on the scanner and scan the item." "Scan it again." "You are a thief." "Turn yourself into the police, scofflaw." "You are an unfit human being. Your assets now belong to CVS." Aaaagggghhh am I in the sequel to Idiocracy? I am a law-abiding citizen, why are you torturing me, U-scan? 2) It can't do stuff that cashiers can do, and therefore the customer is kind of doing the cashier's work for the now non-existent cashiers. I like walking up to the checkout counter and having the cashier take care of me - for example, take the anti-theft device off of my razor blades (for shaving, gentle readers) without me having to remember that I need to do that. My husband did the wonderful husbandly chore of picking razors up for me the other day, and forgot about the anti-theft device, so he had to go all the way back. Annoying! Would not have happened with a cashier! And there's just the personal touch of a real cashier - a greeting, a recommendation, recognition, rapport.

So I'm considering finding another drugstore within walking distance to patronize. There are a few near our place, and I plan to check them out for selection, customer service, price, etc. In the meantime, I'm curious how others view this issue, and I wrote an email to CVS that makes me sound like the 80-year-old curmudgeon that lives inside me:

"I have been shopping at this store for almost a year and have always appreciated the product selection and the wonderful service that the employees provide. However, I am disappointed with the recent installation of self-checkout-only at this store. There are almost never cashiers available to take care of customers, so we are forced to use the U-Scan or ask for someone to be available. I have had frustrating experiences with the U-scan, such as scanners not properly registering the weight of what I had already scanned. I believe that personal interaction is very important in the service industry. I am not sure whether the all-U-Scan transition is a local or corporate transition, but I am very frustrated with it and wanted to voice my disappointment with this decision. Meanwhile, I am looking at other drugstores in my neighborhood to take my business. Thank you."

Today, self checkout. Tomorrow, self-load-inventory-off-the-truck, self-stock-products-on-the-shelves-and-get-a-discount? Who wants to organize a self-checkout walkout with me?


Jay Livingston said...

In response to McDonald's "We do it all for you":

"In reality, at McDonald’s we do it all for them. We stand in line, take the food to the table, dispose of the waste, and stack our trays. As labor costs rise and technology develops, the consumer often does more and more of the work. (Ide and Cordell, “Automating Work,” quoted in Ritzer's McDonaldization of some years back.

E. said...

It's interesting that companies get away with cutting services and reducing staff power as "do[ing] it all for you." I was in a shoe store the other day and I forgot how much of a difference it makes to have an actual professional measure your foot, talk to you about comfort, and send you away with a beautifully fitting shoe. It's a dying art. Most people today think they can do it all better by themselves. Sometimes they are right, but the shoe experience was almost transcendent for me.

Post a Comment