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Using the Self-Check Line in WalMart: I Refuse to Do It!

Updated on January 14, 2015

Back in the late '90s, I worked at a major regional grocery chain. There were rumbles that automated check lanes were about to become the norm to cut back on the need for employees. I must admit that I feared for my job. The argument was that prices could be kept lower by employing fewer workers. Also, customers could do the work for themselves.

Fast forward about 15 years, and the future is now. When the chain first started using the self-check lanes, I must confess that I used them occasionally to avoid the long lines. Then, in 2008 and 2009, the economy went down the proverbial toilet. Millions of Americans lost their jobs in the economic downturn. Just after the recession, however, companies started to make even more profits than they had made ever before.

One of the largest retailers in the grocery business is now good 'ole Wally World. Just about every WalMart that I've visited in the past handful of years has many of the self-check lanes. Many other large retailers are also using them. I now refuse to use them. I will tell why below.

Walmart's American Footprint

Walmart stretches across the US landscape.
Walmart stretches across the US landscape. | Source

Pros of Self-Check Lanes

There is one large pro when it comes to using the self-checkout lane at WalMart or another retailer. It is related to time. There are many checkout lanes in most WalMarts. They tend to stretch across the entire length of the front of the store. My WalMart has about 30 of these stations. Only six are self-check lanes.

On any given day, no matter how busy the store is, there are usually between 3 and 6 lanes that have actual checkers open. Occasionally, a Saturday afternoon or another busy time might have a couple of additional lanes open. In contrast, the local Target has the same number of lanes (roughly), yet keeps at least 10 open during most of the busy times. Lines are usually way longer at the WalMart. The self-check lane is supposed to drain off some of the customers who might otherwise be standing in line and make the time in queue a bit less.

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The Negative Aspect of Using the Self-Checkout

While there is a time savings achieved by checking yourself out at WalMart (and other retailers), there is also a very negative outcome.

The biggest problem is that fewer people are employed. WalMart has been in the news quite a bit lately because they have fewer people working per store. Some are complaining that shelves are going empty. The cutting of workers hurts local economies because fewer people are employed. I've seen many people complaining about the number of unemployed people and how these people are lazy. Using the self-check lane helps justify the cutting of workers.

Some might argue that this technology helps WalMart lower prices. While this might be the case, I've not seen prices come down as this new technology comes into play. I've seen the price of my groceries go up over the past few years--and people are unemployed.

This causes problem from a demand standpoint. If people do not have money, they do not buy products. More people lose jobs. There is less demand. Of course, governmental assistance programs will help these people (as they help many of the people working for WalMart), but most would probably rather have a job.

If low prices are the goal, Costco seems to do quite well while paying workers well and offering health benefits. They pay an average of $17 per hour and still make a profit. Workers actually like working there, too. The only bad part of Costco is that they are not as widespread.

I must confess, I shop at WalMart, but I absolutely refuse to go through the self-checkout, hoping that I might help out employment. Better the money go to the poorly-paid worker than the coffers of the Walton heirs.


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