COLUMN: Self-service is just a matter of greed

It recently occurred to me that I’m doing a lot of work and not getting paid for my efforts.

Of course, the trend started when the first ATMs appeared. In my youth (OK, that was a long time ago) every bank had a dozen or so smiling tellers waiting to serve customers. At the same time, gas stations had attendants who would clean your windshield and offer to check your oil and tire pressure, and grocery stores had clerks who would actually help you find items.

RELATED: A ban on self serve gas

And fine, before you think that I’m going to start waxing poetic about the way customer service used to be (it was better) I’ll acknowledge that the trend to have us do the heavy liftiing while corporations disappear jobs and reap the profits isn’t going to go away.

RELATED: More self serve tills

It’s a matter of money. And greed.

You think that airports self check ins are about speed and convenience? Think again.

One study showed that it costs airlines about 14 cents to process a customer through a self check-in and about $3 to do the same job with at a staffed desk.

A well-known fast food chain discovered that the introduction of self -service terminals resulted in customers spending about 30 per cent more. It seems that, if you don’t have to speak to a real person, the shame of super-sizing a meal was removed. I guess people just figure that they deserve a break today.

But beyond its contribution to clogged arteries, I wonder if we realize what the cost of the self serve culture has been.

RELATED: Self serve rage

The fast food chain in question has gotten slower and, God forbid if you try to go to the counter to order food.

I did that the other day and the first two staff members that eventually approached me didn’t know how to work the cash till.

In another example, I was grocery shopping and found that only three human cashiers were working, all with long line ups. It was obvious that, if I wanted to get out of there before my milk reached its expiry date, I would have to go to one of the 18 self-serve tills.

The problems started almost immediately.

“Unexpected item in the bagging area!” the automatic voice cried out.

It may have been my imagination, but there was a bit of a tone there that implied that I was trying to sneak a can of shrimp into my cart without scanning it first.

The single bored clerk who was overseeing the 18 self check out terminals glanced over.

“Take your bags off the scale,” she said. “You can’t have anything on that side that hasn’t been scanned.”

Her tone at least didn’t imply larceny. Just the early onset of senior’s dementia.

But larceny is a side effect of self serve grocery checkouts. A recent study estimated that about four per cent of people using those tills will steal something.

For some it’s an act of frustration as the item they’ve tried to scan refuses to register and they resort to tossing it in their cart anyway.

Some folks lie about the number of bags they’ve used and for others it’s a matter of miscoding their passion fruit as bananas (code 4011) and getting a bargain.

That’s why the machines finish up by asking of you’re trying to steal anything.

“Are you sure that you’ve scanned all your items?” they’ll ask.

For me, the final insult in the experience came after I’d scanned, packed, stowed and paid for my groceries.

“How did we do today?” the machine asked in a chirpy voice.

I stood there for a moment before actually talking back to the machine.

“You didn’t do anything. I did all the bloody work! I hope you rust and die.”

I noticed that the millennial at the neighbouring self-serve machine was looking at me with the kind of pitying look you give your Grandpa when he misbuttons his shirt. I quickly left the store.

•••

Tim Collins is a Sooke News Mirror reporter. Email him at tim.collins@sookenewsmirror.com.

ColumnSooke

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Thief nabs $600 worth of tools in break-and-enter at Saanich hardware store

Police department sees a spike in break-and-enters

Victoria police seek public help finding high-risk missing woman last seen on ferry

Mariah Konchak has shoulder-length dark hair, scars above her right eye and may be missing a tooth

Island Health to use Saanich recreation centre to support pandemic needs

Cedar Hill Recreation Centre will be used as a referral-only assessment clinic

Greater Victoria resident sick with COVID-19 calls it a ‘horrible disease’

Tim Boat says he has ‘extreme coughing fits every hour’ to clear his lungs

Tents, sleeping bags donated to Our Place from local Victoria store

Robinson’s Outdoor Store received funds from PwC Canada to make the donation

B.C. records five new COVID-19 deaths, ‘zero chance’ life will return to normal in April

Province continue to have a recovery rate of about 50 per cent

6.5-magnitude earthquake in Idaho shakes B.C. Interior

An earthquake was reportedly felt just before 5 p.m. throughout the Okanagan

John Horgan extends B.C.’s state of emergency for COVID-19

Premier urges everyone to follow Dr. Bonnie Henry’s advice

B.C.’s first community COVID-19 death was dentist ‘dedicated’ to health: lawyer

Vincent was 64 when he died on March 22 after attending the Pacific Dental Conference

Two inmates at prison housing Robert Pickton test positive for COVID-19

Correctional Service of Canada did not release any details on the identities of the inmates

BC SPCA launches matching campaign to help vulnerable animals after big donations

Two BC SPCA donors have offered up to $65,000 in matching donations

Quarantined B.C. mom say pandemic has put special-needs families in ‘crisis mode’

Surrey’s Christine Williams shares family’s challenges, strengths

Anti-tax group calls for MPs, senators to donate scheduled pay raises to charity

Bill C-30, adopted 15 years ago, mandates the salary and allowance increases each calendar year

Liberals delay release of 75% wage subsidy details, costs: Morneau

Program will provide up to $847 per week for each worker

Most Read