Are Walmart workers bothered by the self-checkouts?

I know that the intent is to reduce staffing, but I’m assuming that workers aren’t threatened by that because (at least around here) jobs that don’t require skills or experience are plentiful.

Do cashiers make more? Is it a desirable position?

I don’t think there’s anything special about Wal*Mart’s use of self-checkout versus other retailers’ uses. Although you (the OP) may have other thoughts.

Paging @Broomstick & @Smapti. While AFAIK these folks don’t work for Wal*Mart they do work retail in companies that use self-checkout. I believe both have written on the general topic of self check-out from the worker POV before.

Self checkouts aren’t anything new anymore. I imagine the vast majority of Wal-Mart workers probably started working there AFTER self-checkouts were installed, so there’s nothing to really “threaten” them.

I worked for 2 1/2 years at Toys R Us back in the 90s. Everyone was a cashier at one point or another. Nobody was a full-time cashier. Some people did it more than others; for example, I spent the vast majority of my time in the back, handling big ticket items (bikes, swing sets, furniture, and so on) but I did my time on the registers as well. The people who worked out on the floor stocking shelves and in customer service spent much more time than I did. But nobody did it as their sole job. I imagine that’s probably fairly typical in retail. Having less of a need for someone at checkout just means you’re spending more time doing other things.

While the presence of self-checkout stations might represent less of a staffing need, it is such a revolving door anyway that I don’t even know how much you’d notice. Even the couple of years I was there made me a veteran. It’s not the kind of place where anyone below the level of manager is likely to be concerned so much with job security. The company makes it pretty clear, pretty fast, in a lot of ways (both small and large) that you’re expendable.

If it’s any consolation to the workers, a great many like myself despise self-checkouts. They are not “labour-saving”, they are a shameless attempt to offload labour onto the customers themselves.

The only time I use them is when I have just one or two items and getting to a cashier requires standing in line. I’m obviously not the only one who feels that way – I see heavy use being made of actual cashiers while many self-checkout stations stand idle. I assume store management is noticing this.

As for Walmart, the local one (which is probably typical) seems to have made a deliberate attempt to encourage self-checkout with a large and obvious area for it, while at the same time minimizing the visibility of the cashier-checkout area. I do use self-checkout there because I very rarely shop at Walmart and then only for a few specific items. Their grocery section, for instance, reflects powerful marketing influence over suppliers with a variety of commodity products at good prices that may not be available elsewhere. I’m sure my checkout behaviour at Walmart has absolutely zero influence over anything.

Our older and more experienced workers are definitely resentful of SCO machines. It reduces the number of weekday daytime cashiers we need (which are slow shifts favored by our full timers). Most stores, one cashier and one self checkout “ambassador” is all you need from 7am to 4pm. Without SCO you’d need 3 cashiers.

Younger ones couldn’t care less. They don’t even remember life before ubiquitous self checkout.

I experienced a novel sort of self-checkout for the first time a few days ago at an airport.

It was the typical snack / newstand place with prefab sandwiches, salads, sodas, bagged chips, candy, books, magazines, etc. To enter the store they have a subway turnstile-like thing where you have to insert & remove a credit card for the gate to open. About like the arrangement at a self-serve gas pump. Once the card is authorized the turnstile opens. Then you go in, grab whatever you want, and go out via another turnstile that opens as soon as you approach it.

That’s it. Nobody scans anything. Nobody human is watching you. You can put the goods in your pockets, hold them in your hands, tuck them in your suitcase. It’s pure magic.

Employees? There was exactly one. She was standing outside the store and her job was to explain this sorcery to would-be shoppers and help them figure out how to poke their credit card into the turnstile slot.

The 21st Century is a weird place and we’re not even 25% of the way to it! :wink:

This is absolutely the case.

I was buying groceries yesterday, and had a cart full of items. I absolutely could use the self-checkout; they don’t have an enforced limit for the maximum number of items you can take through it, and I see people ring up a full cart pretty often. So I could do it. And there were self-checkout spots that were unused. I could have just taken one.

Instead, I chose to get in the shortest line for a real cashier, and waited behind a couple of other customers. There were some practical reasons for this.

  1. I can put my items on a big conveyor belt at the cashier line. The self-checkout has a scanner and a “bagging area” that’s pretty small. If you don’t leave things in the bagging area before you pay, you get nagged and might even need someone to override it.

  2. The cashiers are pretty quick. As I said above, I have experience as a cashier, so I’m not clueless about scanning my own stuff. I know where barcodes are likely to be, I know how to get the lasers to read them, and the whole process is still comfortable. But the cashier is doing this all day, day after day, and has a routine that I lack. They’re better than I am.

  3. It’s just a small space to get everything done. Not just the lack of space to put all my items, but just pulling thing out of the cart, scanning them, putting them somewhere… I feel crammed in trying to do all of that in a tiny island.

  4. That self-scan system inexplicably nags you for almost no reason. It will demand you put something in the bagging area when you already did. It will start griping at you for having something in the scanning area that shouldn’t be (which is often the thing I’m trying to freaking scan). And it will make you call over someone to help you and not let you go any further on your own for any number of reasons. One thing is that if I’m buying something as innocuous as cough medicine, a person will have to check my ID. If I need to wait on someone else to do this, I might as well just get into the line where I have a dedicated person to help out.

I will certainly use the self-checkout if I only have a handful of items. But most of the time if I’m actually going to a brick-and-mortar store, and I’m not shopping online for something, it’s because I am buying a bunch of things. So it’s not often that the self-checkout is actually going to be useful to me.

I don’t work at Walmart, but I do shop there. When self checkouts first appeared in Portland at a Fred Myers grocery store I was shocked that we wouldn’t be getting a discount! If I do somebody’s job for them, I should be paid for it, right? But at Walmart, you do get paid in a way. All I want to do is get in and get out of those stores, and I can do it lots quicker w/ self checkout vs standing in a slow line that creeps like a sundial. I resent the way we’re watched like potential shoplifters while doing it though. But I’m sure there is a lot of theft from dishonest people, so I understand why.

When I lived in Albuquerque, I generally shopped at the tiny Lowes grocery store near the college. Their workers had been there for ages, and many of them knew their customer’s by name. Didn’t matter if it was self checkout or the regular checkout, it was always a fun experience because they enjoyed working there. For Albuquerque, that was an anomaly, as customer service in that city was generally not so good. I remember talking to the worker in the checkout lane about cats, and he reached into his wallet and proudly showed me pictures of his cats that he had at home. That was cool.

That sounds like the same general idea (and probably similar technology) as the Amazon Go stores. But the success of these is TBD, considering that they just announced that they’re closing down eight of them and have just 20 across the US – not clear if the eight is part of the original 20, but either way, there aren’t many of them just yet.

Personally I kind of like the idea since, unlike self-checkout, it doesn’t involve any work on the part of the customer, and lack of lineups actually improves the customer experience. If it takes off it will displace some employees from the conventional stores that it will compete with, but as much as I sympathize with these employees – and I really do – I do not subscribe to the union-centric philosophy that we must continue indefinitely to pay people for doing low-level jobs that machines can do better. That’s a three-point losing proposition in terms of social, technological, and economic progress.

IBM has a cool ad touting similar technology based on RFID:

As a customer I detest Self Checkout but really for only a few reasons that need to get fixed before I will use them. Otherwise I am happy to wait in line behind a little old lady doing her montly shopping because her Social Security check just came in. And then writing a check to pay when she is done. The grocery store check out is not one of the critical areas where I must save time.

The issues, that can easily be fixed:

Produce: I am not looking through a book to find the correct code to punch in. I am not rooting through the bag to see if the number is on a sticker. You, AI machine, can figure that shit out yourself. It is an apple, one of several different kinds you have for sale. Charge me for an apple and move on. Even if you have to average the price of every apple in the store. Make up a price, it is a fucking apple. But the stupid AI machine probably cannot even tell that it is an apple or an onion.

Alcohol: This stops the entire process and I need a checker to come and verify my age anyway, so what is the point of using self check out? My driver’s license has a bar code, a QR code, and has been used to verify my age when entering other venues where alcohol is served. Why can’t the store AI machine use it?

Stupid machines are stupid. Make them smarter and I will use them.

Both WalMarts here in my area (one in this town, the other two towns west of here) have self-serve registers with conveyer belts. So does at least one of the supermarkets.

The registers with tiny bagging areas all have hand scanners. Everything that’s scanned with one of those can just go right back into the cart.

In California you’re not allowed to buy alcohol at self-checkouts at all. So that solves that problem.

I feel like curbside pickup has created a number of jobs, and frankly I find it a far superior experience to any kind of checkout. I also feel like I’d rather work filling orders than checking people out all day.

This is why I use a chatbot to order everything I need from It’s all robots and machine intelligence from end to end. Well, except for the contract warehouse workers who have to pee in bottles and suffer repetitive stress injuries, and the contractors who somehow have to deliver several dozen packages in an eight hour shift, but let’s be honest, that is going to be the future where we are just meat servants for the Total Information Tactical Awareness Network.


I hate them. There is a drug store a block away that often does not have even one cashier on duty (except at the pharmacy) and I have never figured out how to use the automated checkout. Even to buy one item. When I go to pay, it asks me to tap the CC, but gives no information on where to tap it or in what orientation. I have been tempted to walk out without paying, but what I have actually done is leave my attempted purchase on the machine and walk out. I generally use a different drug store even if I have to drive there.

Except they’re corded and the cord isn’t very long, so it’s still a pain.

Here is a video of a self-checkout at the store I shopped at yesterday. (Not the same exact store I’m sure, but the same chain.)

This is wandering a bit off topic, but as much as I have major ethical problems with Amazon, I do keep using them for two key reasons:

  1. Convenience. Rather than driving around to possibly multiple different brick-and-mortar stores, pawing through merchandise that may or may not be what I want, and then maybe have to stand in line on top of all that behind some idiot who (to paraphrase Dave Barry) is trying to pay with a check from the Bank of Yemen using his underwear label as ID, I can just order what I need with a few clicks and have it appear on my own front porch in a couple of days.

  2. The collapse of so many brick-and-mortar stores that I often literally have no idea where to shop for many typical commodities, as so many familiar places now suffer from the phenomenon known as “no longer there”. The disappearance of ubiquitous department stores was the harbinger of this unfortunate end of the traditional shopping experience.

Are you honestly saying that you can’t figure out that “tap the CC” means “tap your card on the CC screen”? Please explain what is so difficult? The orientation doesn’t matter if it’s a tap card. You just tap it. :face_with_raised_eyebrow:

We got self-checkouts about 4 years after the store I work in opened and they make a huge difference. We didn’t lose any cashier hours when we got them and it takes a lot of pressure off the cashiers, especially early morning and in the evening when we might have only 1-2 cashiers and all it takes is one family with a full cart to create a line that backs up halfway down the center aisle.

The cashiers who work the self-checkouts, on the other hand, tend to have a love-hate relationship with them. It’s an easy way to get 40 hours a week, but you have long stretches of just standing there and watching people, and, despite the fact that these things have been out there for over 20 years now, there an alarming number of people who don’t understand how to use them. When I’m over there, I may have to walk over to the same person 5 or 6 times to tell them to stop moving stuff around on the bagging scale or trying to put things back in their cart while they’re still scanning or the machine will lock up, people try to pay with cash at the machines that have multiple signs on them reading CARDS ONLY, they stare at the produce lookup screen as if it’s written in Klingon, people who blaze past the “15 items or less sign” with an overflowing cart, and then there’s the price-switchers or the people who try to underscan products that we have to look out for as well.

The headline on that story is somewhat misleading. The two that are closing in Seattle have already been “temporarily closed” since 2020, due to a combination of the pandemic and their being located in a part of downtown Seattle which has become woefully blighted ever since the office workers disappeared and many other businesses closed. One of them in particular was shut down after an employee was stabbed by a homeless person during his lunch break. It’s not really an indictment of the business model, which I expect we’ll see become more widespread in the future (though it’s probably gonna be a long time before it’s workable in a store the size of the one I work at.)