No Cashier For You

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“1) Will a cashier always be available at the local Neighborhood Markets?” The answer is “No,” if Walmart has its way.

By the way, this hasn’t been answered by any of the dozens of emails, tweets, or direct messages I’ve exchanged in the last few weeks. Luckily, the corporation is staffed by human beings, ones who exist in the real world – and who share our misgivings about achieving cost reduction by eliminating jobs (and people) at the expense of customer convenience. Despite my complaint regarding being coerced into using self-checkout, even for large volume grocery shopping, the bigger shadow will come from passive scanning technologies which are designed to eliminate almost all interaction between shoppers and employees.

To all those with physical limitations or who dislike being required to be their own cashiers for one of the largest corporations in the world, please accept my apologies. Walmart will imply that their “Store Pickup” system will address these concerns. They won’t, at least not in the immediate future. From listening to people I know who’ve tried the order ahead and “Store Pickup” system, they love the idea of it but have universal frustrations with the implementation. Most of the hiccups are from, you guessed it, human error and insufficient staffing to provide a worry-free grocery experience. Warm ice cream? Shorter expiration dates on your dairy? Less appealing merchandise compared to what you might choose? Scheduling and logistic issues? Yes, yes, yes, and yes.

If you have a disability or limitation, I can only recommend that you insist that all retailers accommodate you. If you resent being less valued as a customer, I can only advise that you seek a retailer which honors your request.

Most of us will gladly embrace self-checkout for some situations. We’ll even use the ‘scan as you go’ apps in most cases. Equally true, though, is that we’re not going to accept a multi-billion dollar corporation’s insistence that we do a job better performed by an employee of its organization, a job for which we are already being charged. There are times when we want a cashier, especially when we’ve accumulated a few dozen items in our shopping carts.

As for the customer service reporting system, Walmart’s is broken. As it turns out, it is deliberately designed to function that way. In the last few weeks, I’ve exchanged hundreds of emails, direct messages and fruitless tweets and posts. None of them came from an identifiable person. With each promise of contact, I’d be sent back to the starting point of the broken carousel. I could almost hear the crackle of laughter behind some of the redirects. Walmart insulates itself from marketing glitches by pushing everything back out to the local branches, as if the store manager is the one wanting to reduce his or her staff. In a moment of candor, I had a store manager tell me directly that he/she blamed all of it on corporate’s sole focus on cost, even though the metrics of customer satisfaction skew away from cost as being the sole factor.

Officially, no one at Walmart had the courtesy or professionalism to answer any of my questions, even when I reduced it to the one question which starts this post. Their failure to answer me is a testament to their proven ability to ignore most pushback and to their own belief that they are too large to fail. I can’t blame them, not really. Arrogance of that magnitude is almost inescapable when scaled to their size.

One thing I found out for certain is that Walmart is slowly transitioning to self-kiosks while simultaneously avoiding any blanket statements about their future. A bigger part of their vision involves using scanning technology or customer-driven input, which either passively tracks what we pick up at every point in the store or requires our input to scan or tally the selected merchandise. We are the proverbial frog in the slowly heating pot of water and we won’t realize that we can’t turn back until we’re too boiled to hop out. Walmart is counting on our complacency to reach a point of no return.

Between initiatives like Project Kepler and Code Eight, Walmart is investing heavily in technology which reduces labor by removing Walmart employees from the process as much as possible. For cost reductions, it’s smart. For human relations, it is less than ideal.

If you don’t want to use a self-checkout kiosk, the best option is to politely say “No.” If you’re told something you don’t like, try to remember that employees are either badly trained, which is management’s fault, or they are only parroting the words and procedures given to them, which is also management’s fault. They are still people first and employees second. This is ironic when you stop to consider that these very people are the ones Walmart is eliminating to save you money. Truth be told, most managers don’t have any real ability to control these types of issues.

It is a certainty that many retailers will follow suit and use technology to push our shopping habits in a new direction. As I’ve said all along, such technology holds a place in our future but it shouldn’t be forced upon us for all situations.

I started all this weeks ago by saying that Walmart and its smaller food markets in particular is a business model I very much want to embrace. I love technology and welcome both self-checkout kiosks and “as you go” systems. I resent the idea, though, that I am becoming an involuntary employee of the organization I’m rewarding with my business. For those who are older or with physical issues, I am especially concerned.

Locally, most of us will have choices through smaller grocery stores and chains. They’ll face the same price pressures, though, at some point.

I realize that this isn’t the most well-written post but perfect is the enemy of the good. If a billion dollar company can wing it, I see no reason to hold myself to a higher standard.

P.S. If you write me, I’ll be sure to forward that to my compliance and correspondence officer. Or Tier 3. Or Reader Spark. Or that guy Jonathan sitting in the basement waiting to help you. Please give me at least 24 business days to ignore your message.

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