By TE Creus
A big part of the move towards AI is not driven by cost or convenience, but because AI is a great way to gather information. From TE Creus at off-guardian.com:
I’ve noticed that self-checkout is taking over more and more shops and supermarkets. They have existed for a while, of course, but more as an alternative to reduce lines, but now many shops have exclusively self-checkout machines.
Yet, self-checkout appears not to be very effective or convenient, neither for shops nor for customers. Many customers tend to dislike self-checkout, as evidenced by the fact that there are always lines for human cashiers but none for self-checkouts. They give you the perception of more speed, but it is just illusory. Professional human cashiers scan and move your products faster (especially in Germany, where they go so quickly, basically throwing the stuff at your face, that you can hardly keep up).
“Nobody likes self-checkout”, says an article at CNN, “Here’s why it’s everywhere”.
Basically, as it is typical in the “digital economy”, it is just another way of passing the work to the customer and making think he’s gaining something with the exchange. Now, it may work for some — and I guess it is good if you want to avoid human interactions with a cranky cashier, which sometimes has its benefits.
You’d think that this type of automation would reduce the work of human cashiers and therefore save money for the companies and therefore make products cheaper, but it is not so. First of all, the machines need constant maintenance. Even if companies reduce the number of cashiers, they need to hire more technicians, which are paid more. The machines cost a lot, too, and require programming. And are supermarket products becoming cheaper? I don’t think so, quite the opposite in fact…
But not even the reduction in the number of human cashiers is a given. When people have to do their own checkout with machines, there is always something that goes wrong, or some product that won’t be scanned, so many people constantly require assistance even when using the self-checkout. In the end, cashiers and supervisors actually end up having more work, instead of less.
Of course, self-checkout is more conducive to shoplifting — sometimes voluntary, sometimes accidental. There are items, such as bread, that have no barcodes, and it becomes more complicated to register them in. Even if most people are honest, some are not. Companies lose more money with that, too — according to that same CNN article, losses are about 77% higher than at stores without self-checkout.
Since it doesn’t save money for companies, nor makes the products cheaper or the experience better for customers, one has to wonder why most companies are moving to self-checkout anyway?
Unfazed by the relative failure of self-checkout, Big Tech is pushing for even more of it. Amazon, who owns Whole Foods and other physical stores, has introduced “smart carts”, where your products are scanned and weighed as soon as you put them in the cart, no checkout needed (your debit card or phone is charged automatically).
Other new versions of self-checkout include shops where each movement is tracked by AI cameras and motion sensors, registering each item you take from the shelf and billing you later. All you need to do is swipe a credit card or smartphone, at least until the new methods that allow you to pay by facial recognition are installed.