Some shoppers love self-checkout machines in the grocery store. Count Mr. Swellesley as one of them. He likes to zip the bar code over the scanner, then in one fluid motion drop his item into the waiting bag and carry his score to the car himself. When allowed to process these small daily transactions independently, a happier shopper you’ll never know. This is because Mr. Swellesley is uneasy as the object of service. When given the choice, he’ll always pump the gas, mow the lawn, iron the shirts, and wash the car on his own. His latest: trying to figure out if he can maybe cut his own hair. He hasn’t yet dared, but has spent much time interviewing the fearless men who do.
Other shoppers hate self-checkout machines. For them, it’s a matter of principle, a simple cause-and-effect equation. When the check-out part of shopping is outsourced to the customer, then jobs are taken away away from cashiers, they reason.
Roche Bros. in Wellesley has found itself on the defensive as the business, in town since 1981, moves toward installing four self-checkout machines in Wellesley. Construction has begun, and the new system is expected to roll out later in June.
Roche Bros. says the change will give shoppers choice as the store faces a tight labor market that has made hiring increasingly difficult. Even though the store currently has six cashier positions open, they say they’ve struggled to fill them. As Roche Bros. sees it, technology is the solution to this tight labor market problem.
Maribeth Grant, Manager, Customer Service for Roche Bros. says, “We have a diverse customer base, with different preferences on how they like to shop. For example, most of our Wellesley customers shop in-store, but we also have hundreds who prefer to shop online with Roche Bros. and have their groceries delivered. Similarly, adding Fast Lane registers will appeal to a subset of customers who prefer to check themselves out, while we are happy to continue to offer multiple cashier-attended checkout lanes for customers who prefer a face-to-face interaction.”
Still, the decision has sent Roche Bros. Director of Marketing Media & Public Relations Dena Kowaloff into customer reassurance mode. She has lately spent a lot of time dispelling customer fears that self -checkout lanes will lead to job losses for cashiers and baggers. She’s even been granted access to a popular closed Facebook page on which members have been voicing their concerns that baggers and cashiers will be let go as a result of the new lanes.
“We will not be laying off or eliminating any positions as a result of the new Fast Lane registers,” Kowaloff says. “Our Wellesley store will continue to offer cashier-staffed traditional and express checkout lanes, bagging services, and grocery carry-out to your car as we have been. We will continue to offer express lanes and regular lanes staffed by our fantastic cashiers. The new Fast Lane registers will simply be another option customers can choose if they wish.”
Some customers take a big-picture view and suggest it’s inevitable that a combination of new technologies and worker shortages in areas such as Wellesley will result in big changes. Wellesley resident Julia Hicks de Peyster says, “As someone who has focused on workforce development and employee benefits for much of my career I can say that huge changes are afoot. We will likely see wave upon wave of firings, robots, redeployment of human capital – this will cause great sadness and stress to workers and managers alike. As customers of businesses, I think we are going to need to develop a new thinking that we are partners in this intertwined economy so we get through this with the most human decency possible.”
Roche Bros.’ Wellesley location currently has openings for six cashiers. Interested candidates can apply online at www.rochebros.com/careers. Full-time employees (associates who work 40 hours per week or more) are eligible for benefits that include medical, dental, paid time off, 401k, and more. More on that here.