Monday, June 21, 2021

Dear Retailers, (Part 2: Self Serve)


Self-scan, U-scan, Scan N Go, whatever they want to call it, it's basically self serve.

(Full Disclosure: I may be somewhat bias when discussing this post, as it's the job I've done for the past 8 years. While my comments towards my former employer may seem harsh, keep in mind that I was contracted to do a job as they requested, and they compensated me. There is no animosity or ill will on my end, just my interpretations of what I observed)

To begin my post I want to address that the implementation of self serve machines was handled completely wrong by the retail industry, and Ill explain why.

The first problem...

We all know why retailers brought the machines in, and that's to kill off jobs and shrink their labour costs, despite retailers trying to tell consumers it was about "making their shopping experience better". The retail industry had a new weapon in the fight against labour costs, and it was the machines. They were so determined to undermine and shrink labour costs that they would stop at nothing. When I first began training to work with the machines, I witnessed as my former employer, purposely short staffed the regular checkout lanes, in order to force customers to use the machines. As you can expect there was tremendous pushback from the customers. This was the first, politically driven tactic in ringing in the robot invasion. I say politically driven, because this idea of shrinking the labour force, and cutting labour costs is an accounting decision. For those outside of accounting room, it makes no sense to anyone, besides investors. A case point is that in sports like... let's say our Canadian pastime hockey, you wouldn't listen to the accounts and fire all the goalies just to make your budget. That would make no sense, you need the goalies to play the game properly. Just like you need staff to provide a pleasant retail shopping experience. In the boardroom, a true great leader realizes these accounting tricks, and makes decisions that complement and streamline the business, not hinder it.

Another politically motivated tactic, used by my former employer to promote self serve, was to remove the express lanes. So for those whom were merely buying a few last minute items, or maybe you forgot something, you had two choices wait in line behind buggies full of groceries or use the machines. You can just imagine the overwhelming level of resentment and backlash we received from customers.

Two attempts and two complete failures at getting "customers" to embrace the rise of the machine robot apocalypse (and we thought it would be to Arnold Schwarzenegger ).

Do you know why they really failed, because this new modern retail industry is run by a bunch of entitled brats who are merely educated by academia, with no regards for common sense, wisdom, or knowledge (I have worked for both Galen Weston Senior, and Galen Weston Jr, know which I preferred). While it may seem as if I'm bitter, I assure you I'm not, it's merely the frustration of spending 30 years learning the art of interacting with customers, only then to be told by a recent college graduate (with no real world experience) that I'm doing it wrong (OK, but I'm still being paid right?)

What should they have done...well I'm glad you asked. As with other industries, if you want your customers to embrace something new, you need to give them an incentive. Let's look at gas stations, they successfully moved away from full service, by offering a discount for those who choose to pump their own gas, or a premium for those who still want the service. This would also prevent the line jumper people, who want full service but demand it from self serve (which is an entirely different topic altogether). It seems, at the gas stations, the customers interest in saving money far exceeds their social beliefs of gainful employment for the attendant.

My former employer, and, I imagine the whole industry, could have easily kept the status quo, brought in the machines, and offered a 5%-10% discount to those willing to scan their own groceries/items. Sooner rather than later, I'm sure the demand for machines would begin to outstrip the need for cashiers or attendants and the retail environment would naturally evolve. What happened at the gas pumps could very well happen at the brick and mortar retailers, but I don't have a college or university degree, so why listen to me.

Now, brick and mortar retailers are offering the premium service of home delivery, if you want to pay for it. I'm not sure about this, as I'm old enough to remember that a Milk person or Post person, used to do home deliveries too (don't see that much anymore).

Problem number two

Lack of consistency! 

There is no consistency, in that, some retailers have no attendants helping, some have attendants that step in when there are problems and some where only an attendant operates the machine. Depending on the store, the retailer, and even the industry, policies around "self service" differ. It's complete anarchy, and it's only frustrating the consumer. In my very own experience self serve policies would change weekly, and could change based on store manager, district manager, or even regional manager. It seems everyone in the organization had a say as to what the policies and procedures should be, except the consumer. 

I'm curious if anyone else dealt with this, let me know?

Problem number three

The Machines.

The machines, which are really just computers, are fundamentally flawed because of the software. Now I can only describe my experience as it pertains to my working environment, so bare with me. When we first started out, using self serve, the software was decent but the computers were vastly under powered. It was 2012ish and we were using computers built in 2005ish era. If you know anything about computers it's that a computers lifespan is about 5 years, so you can see why there were so many initial issues. The first self serve machines were very slow, and this was the biggest aggravation for the consumer. It made no sense, and I heard it all the time, why should a customer use a self serve machine, when a cashier is easier, friendlier, faster, and costs the same? They wouldn't...unless there were no cashiers available.

As time has marched on, the self serve machines have had major improvements in processing power, which really improved the self serve experience. All the emphasis, however, was on upgrading the computing power of self serve machines, and as a result the software fell behind. You ever see people row a boat and they only row on one side, and the boat goes in a circle. This is how my former employer treated self serve, they just wanted the machines to move forward, but put 100% budget resources in software. When the software failed because the hardware couldn't keep up, then 100% budget resources to Hardware.

Instead of moving the machines forward towards a more pleasant shopping experience, my former employers machines were in a constant state of moving in circles. It was comical to most of the staff, as "big improvements" always meant a worse shopping experience. In all honesty though, I will say, when the machines first launched, the software was rather amazing (for the time). We had complete remote control of the machines, full real-time display of on going orders. We as the self serve attendants had the ability to start/stop/hold/reverse/suspend/recall the machines, add/subtract items, all remotely, which made it very simple to assist in a pleasant shopping experience. This no longer exists, it must all be done physically, at the machine now, which is tremendously slow, and creates anxiety for the customer and attendant (specially during the pandemic). 

My former employer even thought it was a great money saving idea to remove the phones from self serve, because machines don't need to make phone calls (so who is going to call for price checks, security, first aid, unwanted items to be returned). Honestly I sometimes wonder if management even knew what running a grocery business even meant.

This is my take on the retail industries self serve machines, do you think I missed out on something?

Let me know what you think.


1 comment:

  1. as i said before, i will not go to a store that doesn't give me an option to have a real person cashier, we don't need to eliminate jobs, there aren't enough
    as it is!!!!!


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