Are self-serve checkouts killing jobs? Coles and Woolworths respond

Coles and Woolworths customers have long speculated that the introduction of self-serve checkout technology has come at the cost of supermarket jobs. But is this true?

In response to a previous Yahoo News article about self-serve checkout gripes, many shoppers debated the idea on social media.

“I refuse to use self serve. Self service machines are reducing the number of jobs,” one person commented.

Coles and Woolworths self serve checkouts
Woolworths and Coles have been equipped with self-serve checkouts for many years, leading many customers to question the effect on staff numbers. Source: Getty Images

Is it correct that self-serve checkouts are taking jobs away from hard-working Aussies? A consumer expert says no.

“Anecdotally, we always believe that self-serve takes away jobs in a supermarket, but it doesn’t,” Professor Gary Mortimer, Professor of Consumer Marketing at QUT told Yahoo News.

“All that's happened is that it’s dispersed roles from the front of the store into other areas of the store.”

Jobs moving behind the scenes

So why do supermarket customers find it hard to believe that self-serve technology isn't causing a decline in job numbers? Professor Mortimer says it's likely because the creation of new "behind the scenes" departments are keeping some staffers out of sight, so while there might be fewer cashiers, job numbers are stable.

“Customers in the store are conditioned to seeing checkout operators at the front of the store,” he said.

“Those roles that appear to have vanished have moved to the deli, produce, and into new roles like online personal shoppers that we never had 10 years ago.”

Woolworths truck parked in front of a Coles sign
Gocery giants Coles and Woolworths have maintained consistent employee statistics over the past few years and continue to hire new staff. Source: Getty Images

According to Coles' Annual Reports, employee numbers have grown in recent years. The supermarket giant declared that it employed 118,000 team members in 2020, which grew to 120,000 team members in 2021.

Woolworths also remains one of the largest private employers in Australia, with employee numbers steadily increasing over the last five years to over 210,000 team members. Woolworths has also created hundreds of new jobs in a new Queensland distribution centre, and is continuing to hire staff around Australia.

Coles rolls out new self-serve checkout with conveyer belt

A Coles spokesperson told Yahoo News that the retailer is committed to meeting customer demand with both self-serve and belted checkouts.

"At Coles we want every customer interaction with our team members to be safe, quick, and friendly," said the spokesperson.

"In the past two years Coles has seen customer demand for self-checkout technologies accelerate.

"We are investing heavily into service and are rolling out a range of new options to help customers check out more quickly, including our popular belted self-checkouts and packing benches. These are being installed nationally as part of our refurbishment program."

Coles store sign and customers using self-serve checkouts
Yahoo News understands that Coles team members will help customers pack their bags at self-serve checkouts when requested. Source: Reuters

“The new format combines two experiences that customers were already familiar with – belted lanes where customers are served by team members and our existing self-checkouts," the spokesperson continued.

“On the self-service trolley checkout, customers are able to scan their purchases more easily when they have a trolley or a bigger basket and pack their bags the way they like.

“The investment in new technology for the service area means we can have more checkouts open, providing customers with space, less congestion, reduced queuing and frees up team members to interact with our customers, providing guidance and assistance to the level they require.”

Woolworths commits to range of checkout options

A Woolworths spokesperson has told Yahoo News that the Covid-19 pandemic led to customers preferring varied shopping options.

"We're focused on providing our customers with multiple ways to shop with us, given their ever-changing needs," the spokesperson said.

"Throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, many customers opted for safer and more convenient ways to complete their shop."

"Many customers shifted to online tools including Direct to Boot and home delivery, while others decided to streamline their in-store experience through the use of Scan&Go and self-service," the spokesperson continued.

"With this shift to a more digital experience, we had to upscale the capacity of our online infrastructure and capability.

"We'll always provide customers with an option at the checkout and would encourage customers to speak to their local store's service desk if they're in need of assistance."

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