Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Cash Registers of the Future

As I went through the self-checkout lane at my local grocery store, I realized something.

When I was a kid, most gas stations were full service. Remember those? If you're under 40, you might not. Here's how they worked: you pulled in, and a person came to your car. You rolled down the window and told them what kind of gas and how much you wanted. They pumped it and then you paid them. If you wanted to pay by credit card, they had a little plastic tray that hooked onto the partially-open window of your car. The tray contained a multi-part sales receipt and had a slot for your card and a pen. Once you signed the receipt, they took their copy and the tray and left you with your copy and your card. If you wanted to, you could ask them to check your oil and water levels, among other things.

Then came the Energy Crisis and gas prices doubled. To reduce costs, many stations started letting you pump your own gas and save some money by doing it. Within a relatively short time, most gas stations went to most or all self-serve pumps. Now, I can't tell you where there is a station that has anyone who will pump your gas for you.

But the grocery store clerks still man the cash registers. Stores have a few self-serve lanes, but most are manned by a real person.

I'm wondering when someone will realize they can promote lower prices if you scan your own groceries. It might put the cashiers out of a job, but I'm thinking that by the time my children are my age, they'll say, "I remember when grocery stores actually had a person who scanned your groceries and took your money. Now all of the stores have only machines and I don't know a single store that has cashiers."

Is this a good thing or a bad thing?

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