A shopper's scathing open letter criticising self-service checkouts at some of Australia's biggest stores has gone viral.
The author slams Kmart, Bunnings, Woolworths, Coles and Target for encouraging customers to use self-service, before then asking them to wait to have their receipts checked at the exit. "You can either trust me to do self-checkout, or you can put your cashiers back in place like it used to be. I'm not interested in proving that I did your job for you," the note says.
The viral post has been circulating for months and was recently reposted ahead of the frantic Christmas shopping season, with comments suggesting the author was not alone in her frustrations.
However, consumer retail expert Gary Mortimer from Queensland University of Technology defended the stores and the use of self-service checkouts.
Self-checkouts still deemed faster
Speaking with Yahoo News Australia, Mr Mortimer said data revealed that "more consumers are actually seeking to taking control of their own transactions". "And in the self-checkout area, there’s always a team member or two to assist," he added.
"I certainly understand that for some consumers, there is frustration, particularly at this time of the year where you see long lines at either the staff registers or the self-service registers but what we can see is that progressively, many businesses are implementing different types of smart retail technology that enable them to speed up that final sales process."
As for receipts being checked, Mr Mortimer said that is simply the necessary way to "combat theft", and something that is done in some stores regardless of how a purchase is made – such as JB Hi-Fi which does not have a self-serve checkout option.
"If in the case of Kmart where they have the registers in the centre of the store, if you scan your goods or have someone scan them for you, someone still has to check the receipt when you leave the store [either way]" Mr Mortimer said. A Kmart spokesperson has confirmed this to Yahoo News Australia.
Director of Store Operations in Australia and New Zealand, Ben Camire, has said the same of Bunnings. "We have people greeters stationed at the entry of all our stores who welcome customers inside, help them find what they need and check receipts upon exit," he told Yahoo News Australia. "We treat every customer the same way and with respect".
46,000 retail job vacancies in Australia
As part of this viral online debate, people have suggested that with more smart-technology like self-checkouts, retail employees will lose their jobs. However, Mr Mortimer said "it won’t mean fewer jobs, it will just mean different jobs."
"As we moved into November, there was 46,000 retail vacancies in the sector which shows there’s lots of jobs out there, despite the roll out of smart technology," he said.
"While shoppers may see fewer staff at the front of the store, those jobs have moved into other areas, for example online grocery pickers. If we went back five or six years, we wouldn’t have those jobs in stores but now we often see those team members walking along the aisles, picking and packing online orders."
Service counters aren't going away any time soon
For those who are wanting to be served the good ol' fashioned way, Mr Mortimer said they have nothing to worry about. "I don’t think we’ll ever get to a stage where there will be no checkout operators and everything will be self-served," he said.
"I think there will always be a place for team members at the front of the store to assist customers in bringing up their sales and packing up their bags, and there will always be consumers that want that type of service."
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