Does Automated Shopping Weird You Out or Make You Angry?


Does Automated Shopping Weird You Out or Make You Angry?

Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash

Amazon has opened or will soon open more cashierless “just walk out” stores in Washington state and California. I heard a podcast mention Washington D.C as well but they may have been confusing that with Washington state.

I’ve noticed that several of the local stores we shop at have expanded their self-checkout areas and that human cashiers are becoming harder to find. Before COVID we’ve had iPads handed to us at restaurants to make our selections, summon help, and pay when done. I’ve heard of restaurant checks with QR codes that you scan when ready to pay but I haven’t seen those yet — though again, we aren’t dining out these days.

I think it’s all great. My wife doesn’t like any of this.

When talking to what’s left of my baby boomer friends (the rest are Trumpers who I avoid entirely), most seem to side with my wife. A lot of it is not outright opposition, but more that they have had bad experiences — errors, confusing procedures, the sort of thing that can be embarrassing for an older person.

I’ve had those experiences. BJ’s Express checkout is something I use whenever it’s working. Unfortunately, it often hasn’t worked, insisting that I’m not in a BJ’s club (then how did I connect to your wifi?) or refusing to scan some items. On those days I take my stuff through a register and grumble.

Privacy? What privacy?

A very few express concerns about privacy when thinking about the cameras watching any form of self-checkout. That cameras watch throughout all of your shopping at most stores today seems to be forgotten.


Although the word “Luddite” now has acquired some derogatory sense, it originally was simply people protesting loss of employment from new technology. The people who refuse to use self-checkout and don’t like the idea of cashierless stores aren’t usually worried about their own employment as checkout clerks, although many may have justifiable fear of computers someday taking over their own jobs.

Their dislike seems to be more political, although not at all tied to a conservative/liberal divide. They might say things like “I don’t steal work from checkout people”.

I feel a bit ambivalent myself: I like the convenience, but I do wonder how we can deal with the massive unemployment that computers and AI seem to threaten. That threat may not materialize while I’m still here to carp about it, but you’d be very foolish to think that it’s never coming and that society and government will likely be caught flat-footed and unprepared.

On the other hand, change is inevitable. Trains put Mississippi steamboats out of business. If I am stealing work from checkout clerks, people who use Ubers or drive Uber are steal work from auto manufacturer employees. Buying food at a supermarket steals trade from the local farm stand.

It can all get pretty silly.

How about you? Use it, like it, hate it? Let me know in the comments or, if you have subscribed to receive these posts by email, you can respond privately from your mailbox.

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