Big box retail shopping in this country has nearly come full circle. Remember the days of great customer service at big box chain stores? Neither do I… but at least it used to be possible to check out in a timely manner and talk to an actual human.
Store owners have gradually made cuts to save costs. First, it was cuts to the level of service provided – bagging your own items at some stores, for example. Next, cuts were made to the number of cashiers working. This meant waiting in longer lineups, but the benefit of interacting with and being served by an actual human was still there.
A relatively recent next step was the introduction of self-checkout lanes. These were a significant hit to customer service. As I have mentioned in the Times before, there is one particular Kemptville Mall store that I won’t shop in anymore because self-checkout is the only option. The self-checkout machine weighs every item in an attempt to prevent stealing. However, if something falls off the mammoth pile of items that the customer is forced to stack in a one-square-foot space, the computer will not allow you to place it back in the pile without a code being entered by a store employee, or without scanning it again and paying for it twice (no thanks!). It’s complicated for me – I can’t imagine how older people and those who are challenged by technology feel.
The other perhaps unintended issue in that particular store is that the self-checkouts talk – loudly – and in an effort to escape the annoying repetitive robot voice which can be heard throughout the store, customers are surely desperate to pick up only the essentials and get the heck out of the store. I trust there is no “browsing” and impulse buying happening in the aisles which must impart a hit to the store’s bottom line. Not to mention the fact that because items must be weighed in a small space at self-checkout, there is actually a limit to how much can be purchased without inconveniencing oneself. In hindsight, the analogy “shooting yourself in the foot” doesn’t even do this particular store justice. The lack of common sense is so obvious, it’s painful.
Full circle. What does it mean to come “full circle”? It’s when a situation goes through changes that eventually lead back to where everything started. Normally, I wouldn’t bring up this topic again having already written about it in the past, but the self-checkout fiasco is ever evolving and gets more interesting by the day. An article published by the CBC on July 10 reveals that self-checkouts are causing huge increases in theft for retailers. If only there was a way to have a cashier provide a level of appreciated customer service AND surreptitiously check to ensure that all items in a customer’s shopping cart have been scanned. It almost sounds like… a traditional checkout lane! We may not have come full circle yet, but I have a feeling it’s coming.
The CBC article also mentions that retailers are cracking down on receipt checks as a way to combat the increasing theft. There are two reasons why this is ridiculous. One is that it requires extra employees. Where could we use those? Perhaps… working checkout lanes instead? The other reason is that there is virtually no favourable outcome for the store. Either the customer refuses to submit to the receipt check, or the customer complies but is so embarrassed and frustrated that they never return to shop again, preferring instead to support stores that respect and trust their customers.
It surprises me how many people don’t realize that they don’t need to submit to a receipt check in a retail store. Why not? I’ll answer with a question. Would you let a store employee unlock your cellphone to verify that it’s actually yours and not a stolen display model? Would you let a store employee inspect your wedding ring for an engraving to make sure it’s not from the store’s jewelry department? What about your sunglasses? Your purse or wallet? Would you let someone check the clothes you’re wearing for tags? No – because it’s YOUR stuff, right? A lot of people forget that once you pay for something, it’s yours. Which means that all that stuff in your shopping bag belongs to you as well, and no store employee has the right to search your possessions without a warrant or consent.
I haven’t been asked to present a receipt in quite a long time, but I am firm in my decision that the next time it happens, I am going to simply keep walking and wish the store employee a nice day. If stores are paranoid about theft, they should ditch the self-checkouts. It already takes me longer to shop fumbling with those awful machines – I don’t have time to stop and be searched like a criminal, too. One quip I read online recently was “I never signed up for the cashier’s job so if I did it badly… oh well!”
There are so many stores – good, local stores – that don’t use self-checkout and still provide great customer service. Yes, big box retailers that treat us like criminals will always be less expensive, and for some families, there is no choice but to shop where the prices are low. This is understandable, and no judgement here. Those who can afford to spend their dollars at smaller, locally owned stores should do so to take a stand against the decline of customer service (and get a great shopping experience!).
This situation is either going to come full circle, with a return to real customer service when retailers realize it is cheaper in the long run, or more technology is going to be deployed to make customers’ lives even more miserable in the name of loss prevention. Perhaps soon, it won’t be “thank you for using self-checkout” that we hear in a robotic tone reverberating around the store, but rather “handcuffs successfully deployed” as the self-checkout detains a suspected shoplifter. Heck, maybe they could even be loaded with tasers and pepper spray. Anything to make big bucks for big corporations, all while utterly humiliating customers and violating their rights. Enough is enough. Shop small, shop local.