Has A Government Ever Taken Drastic Measures To Address A Labor Shortage?

I went into an Amazon store yesterday to try out their new ‘no checkout’ system. If you have the regular app, it can show a VR code to open the gate, it knows who you are. You select your groceries and head for the exit gate. You get an email and the orders on your Amazon account are updated about an hour later.

I saw just one person manning the entrance, helping people get the code from the app, and a few people restocking. However there did not seem to be a way to see your total bill increasing as you did your shop. So I guess this is more appropriate for the lunch time office workers getting lunch or a few staples.

Aldi have a similar experimental supermarket, but people needed a lot more help because fewer had the Aldi app on their phone. I guess this is the direction of travel for this business. I expect it will be quite some time before it reaches outside city centres and customers who know little of smartphones, apps and online accounts. There were quite a few bemused customers who seemed to think it was all a bit too complicated.

I am not sure many people will miss the checkout. Now if only they could do that at IKEA, which seems to have the slowest checkouts, with huge lines full of families trying to pay and get home with their outsized purchases.

The labour market changes, jobs go and other appear. I have never seen so many delivery services. Once there were small stores and delivery boys on cycles. The supermarkets introduced self service and checkouts. Now they are transforming into checkout-less convenience shops and home delivery services. …and the delivery boys are back.

Whether the total number of employees has gone down or moved to other duties, I am not sure. As a customer, anything that makes tedious shopping chores easier is welcome. Boutique shops with lots of personal service is a quite different experience.

Maybe I’m weird (Oh wait, I am!) but I really don’t like someone hovering at my elbow when I’m browsing or looking at goods. I like the big anonymous stores where nobody is around. More often than not asking “do you have more in the back room” gets the answer “no” anyway. And with small stores, if I browse and don’t buy I feel like I’m telling the owner “your store is inadequate.” (And, I absolutely hate returning stuff unless it is defective - that’s a part of shopping I don’t understand)

So limited human interaction, with the self-checkouts, the big stores, and especially shopping online - is exactly what I want.

Years ago I read in one of the early science fiction stories — think Bellamy’s “Looking Backwards 2000-1887” or Wells’ “The Shape of Things to Come” — that stores would eventually tend toward two extremes: a) boutiques, or b) vast semi-automated warehouses.

I think this is happening to some extent. The warehouses handle the routine orders, and the boutiques handle the edge cases with attentive personalized service. I’ve noticed for a while that, at banks, since the routine transactions started taking place at ATMs (and now online), the remaining transactions taking place in-person at the counter take longer and are more complicated.

Stores adding self-checkout are just trying to add both sides of this differentiation in the same establishment.

Here’s an article about self-checkout and related technologies in stores:

The interesting one to me is the 7-11 version. At 7-11, you use their app to scan and total things as you go, then pay on the app, then the app gives you a QR code that lets you out. That would seem to take care of the ‘can’t tell what the total is as you go’ problem.

The Amazon version would be enormously helped by displaying prices in-store.

The cafeteria at work switched to a self-checkout system instead of vending machines; you grab things off the shelves, take them to the pay station (or use the app), scan them, and pay. The main problem is, there are NO prices displayed. You have to scan something to know how much it costs, and then you’re in a checkout transaction. If they had labeled prices, or a ‘check the price’ function in the app, it would be a huge improvement.

You know, I’m OK with that. In fact, I think having both a self-serve option and a full service lane for check out (with an additional “customer service” option for the most difficult interactions) is the best of both worlds. Options are good.

I don’t like people hovering over me when I’m shopping, either, but I do like to be able to find a helpful human when I feel a need for assistance, large or small.

Where it gets sticky is when a store tries to force only automated interactions.

My place of business has an option sort of like that, you scan as you shop then check-out at the end but it’s far from perfect. One major obstacle is the humans - not everyone picks up new technology easily. Another is, again, theft - it can be easy to put something in the bag without scanning. And then there are age restrictions - buy alcohol or ammunition or an R-rated movie and a human has to double-check your age. This might be easier to implement in stores that don’t sell age-restricted items.

That’s also an issue that keeps getting raised with the shift toward telework, but that’s only tangentially related to the subject of this thread (except insofar as a tight labor market puts employees in a better position to say “You want us to start commuting again? Ha ha ha no.”) New thread on that subject here.

The first self-checkouts I ran across were in the grocery store. They were a convenience because the ATM insisted on dispensing $50 bills if I went over $100, and I could use these checkouts to make change for that $50 with a small item without a human thinking I was being a jerk.

Later self-checkouts are universally “no cash”. First, the cash handling was more onerous, the machine more complex and prone to fail, plus dealing with the “out of change” scenario was a lot extra work, I assume. (and the float required) A while after these appeared, they began posting the warning before the transaction -“Does not accept cash. Do you want to proceed?” I assume some bright legal beagle told them that having incurred the debt by starting their transaction, they could then offer the cash to an attendant who would be obliged to accept legal tender. If you agree beforehand to not use cash, they don’t have to accept it, they can require electronic payment only.

Nope, that’s not it. We have no-cash machines that really are NO cash - if you can’t complete the transaction electronically we really can’t make the sale. At all. Well, OK, we can take your stuff to another station and re-ring it all up. That bit comes up because a lot of people are clueless, oblivious idiots who don’t read and don’t pay attention.

No, if you offer the money to an attendant they are NOT obligated to accepted it. The store is not legally required to sell you anything. We can and do refuse transactions for all manner of reasons, and it’s perfectly legal. We do have an incentive to try to complete transactions, but we do have have to do so.

If I dump my $50 on the service desk and walk out, what will they do? Charge me with theft? I doubt the police would be interested in that one. Leave the groceries behind so you have to go up and down the aisles putting away frozen goods and perishables?

There’s a legal technicality here - at what point does a purchase contract exist? At what point is a debt incurred? You cannot refuse legal tender for a debt, that’s the whole concept of legal tender; but you can refuse to create a contract and debt if you notify the buyer ahead of time “you are agreeing not to use cash”. However, if a buyer can walk up to a machine and start a transaction under the illusion they can use cash to make a purchase, then presumably they are accepting your offer to sell and that makes a contract.

making them agree “no cash” to proceed precludes the creation of a contract for cash.

IANAL I’d love to hear the legal details of this.

As I recall, after the end of the war, many Axis prisoners of war of were keep in the UK and USSR for a fair amount of time. Sort of a you broke it, now you fix it deal.

I am not a lawyer, either, but I do know that the store has a legal right to refuse a sale. I also have seen disruptive customers perp-walked out the door in cuffs by the local police. Where exactly the lines are drawn I don’t know - like I said, I’m not a lawyer.

We have to do that all day anyway because of people changing their minds at the last minute, leaving stuff behind, and so on - we have a cooler behind the service desk to stash items until one of the designated peons doing that job can get to them.

I believe the technical situation for creating a contract is that the buyer makes an offer and the seller accepts it, a contract is created then the buyer pays and takes the goods. Much lawyerly hot air has been expended on exactly what steps constitute creating the offer - it’s logical to assume in an automated system, the actual offer occurs when person scans the item and the machine says “that will be $14.99”. at that point the only question is “will you pay up before you leave, please?”

Having created that debt as the seller, you cannot refuse legal tender (the local currency) for the purchase once that debt has been created. Much lawyerly hot air has been expended proving that principle too. I presume creating a disturbance, or violating implicit rules about the purchase (i.e. we won’t serve the intoxicated) may be justified. But refusing to accept cash money for a debt is not allowed - by doing so, the debt is cancelled. (And generally I assume once the transaction is under way and particularly once it has been concluded, is too late to back out. Once a customer has legitimately paid for their goods, taking them back is theft. )

This goes back to the good old days, when some people refused to accept money printed by the new American government. The government - like every other government that issues currency - made it mandatory that their currency be the medium to settle debts, so as to ensure confidence in their money. You can agree to another means only if both sides of the contract agree. When the customer sees “This machine will not accept cash, debit or credit only. Press OK to proceed” the customer is agreeing that they won’t insist on paying cash.

I have a Mr. Bezos on line 2 for you, he’d like a word.

This has been discussed to death on the Dope.
The Master speaks (1981) (This wasn’t his best work)
All I got is a $100 (2002)
Legal tender and businesses refusing large bills (2003)
Legal Tender (2004) (which itself cited another bunch of threads on that topic, but the links are broken)
Tow truck company must accept 8800 pennies? (2008)
How can government offices refuse cash? (2006)

That last one cites a Web page from the U.S. Treasury, which is no longer accessible as of 2022 :

This statute means that all United States money as identified above are a valid and legal offer of payment for debts when tendered to a creditor. There is, however, no Federal statute mandating that a private business, a person or an organization must accept currency or coins as for payment for goods and/or services. Private businesses are free to develop their own policies on whether or not to accept cash unless there is a State law which says otherwise. For example, a bus line may prohibit payment of fares in pennies or dollar bills. In addition, movie theaters, convenience stores and gas stations may refuse to accept large denomination currency (usually notes above $20) as a matter of policy.

Note : IANAL, or, to put it another way,
I am not Legal, and rarely Tender in Public, though often in Private.

Then how do you explain the continued existence of places of business that do NOT accept cash at all? Because they certainly do exist and are getting more common.

If someone at the check out dropped their trousers and wiped their asshole with a bill I don’t think anyone would argue we have to accept it. Why should we be forced to accept a bill wiped on the orifice on the other end of a person?

Meanwhile, back on topic, it appears that one attempt to mobilise additional labour to overcome a shortage has come a (predictable?) cropper;

A number of cities and states have passed laws requiring merchants to accept cash payments.

Going cashless? If you do in these cities, you’re breaking the law (usatoday.com)

As I understand… the issue is not whether a business accepts cash. The question is whether, when someone owes a debt, that the creditor can refuse to accept legal tender as payment.

So the key issue, which again helps pay for lawyers’ country club memberships, is at what point is a contract established? Basically, from what I read here there and everywhere, a contract consists of offer and acceptance. (IANAL, but I read a lot on the internet…) This is followed by fulfilling the terms of the contract -i.e. payment and transfer of goods or services.

A legal beagle boy will argue the process of running a self checkout and allowing customers to use it could be construed as offer and the buyer’s action acceptance.

So the question at a self-checkout is whether it constitutes a contract.
If it does, then when the transaction takes place, a debt is created.
The merchant cannot refuse legal tender for that debt - unless the buyer has agreed in advance.

(You can agree to almost anything as part of the contract, if both sides agree.)

So the warning on the screen, and the requirement to press “OK”, means the buyer has agreed not to offer cash. That becomes part of the contract. The same goes for the little sign beside a cash register, “credit and debit only”. By using that cashier, you agree to that contract condition.

Again, IANAL, nothing in law is cut and dried, possibly this is just CYA just in case… but it is notable that this use of the warning screen, requiring agreement before the meat of the transaction proceeds, is pretty much universal.

Our company lawyers say otherwise. That’s why the store reserves the right to refuse a sale. Ringing up the sale does not create a debt. The customer is, after all, free to walk away at any point up until handing over payment without consequence. Likewise, the store can refuse up until the point payment is accepted. By that reasoning, legal tender can be refused because there isn’t a debt there, just an offer.

Who is right? I don’t know. I hope to not be in a position where cops and lawyers get involved in such a question.

Cops do not generally get involved in contract disputes.

No, especially on a historical basis:

While less common in the present in the US, police forces are used to break up unions and demonstrations throughout the world.