Friday, July 9, 2010

Travel Agents and Self Checkout

I miss travel agents. Once upon a time I was able to pick up a phone and tell someone (usually a woman, but not always) that I want to go to Boston on Thursday after 4 PM and return home on Friday after 5 PM. That is all I would have to say. Magically, tickets would appear on my desk, car rental arrangements would have been made and a hotel reservation would be all ready for me. And, my trip would be on my favorite airline; I would have my aisle seat, and all my frequent traveler numbers would be there. Now, my wife and I pore over various websites searching for the best deals – it can take hours of our time and we’re still not sure we got the best deal.

I was at Jewel recently, buying avocados among other things. I chose to use the self checkout aisle, since it appeared the shortest. Of course, that is just an illusion – I’ll get back to that. I put my avocado on the scale and did the lookup thing (there was no little sticker on my avocado with the little code number). Who knew there were 4 different kinds of avocado? Which one do I pick? There were no prices on the screen, so I couldn’t pick the cheapest (the logical choice). So, I just picked one. Probably paid too much. It used to be that you could save time in the self checkout aisle, but that was when it was new, novel. Now, lots of people use it and, like me that day, stare at the screen trying to figure stuff out. And, it gets worse when something doesn’t work right – scanning coupons being the most common problem I’ve observed.  The whole process is slower than the paid checkout folks and it’s no longer the time saver it used to be.

It seems that we are doing more and more of the work in business transactions. They have shifted work to us. The corporations save on labor costs, and supposedly we benefit from lower prices, but I do wonder. Corporate profits have been very robust, even during this downturn. Perhaps some of that is because we now do work, for free, that they used to have to pay someone to do.

2 comments:

Perplexio said...

I have mixed feelings about the self-checkouts. I believe some people abuse them (the same people who used to go through the "15 Items or Less/Express Lane" with a full cart of groceries). And while there may not be many of this type of person, there are enough that it causes headaches for the rest of us.

On the flip side, grocery stores are feeling the crunch too. They know to stay competitive they need to keep the costs low and in business the #1 lesson is the easiest way to control expenses is through payroll. So reducing payroll from 4 to 1 (normally there's still 1 person manning the self-checkouts to clear out any errors/mistakes/issues) people or reducing the hours of the existing staff... that's savings they can apply towards keeping their costs low and remaining competitive and still profitable.

On the flip side by reducing payroll they're reducing the purchasing power of their employees and in reducing that purchasing power that's less money going back into the economy-- either in their store or out of it...

There's a rubicon of sorts that they want to get as close to without crossing. Oy vey!

Dan said...

Even in my evil call center existence much of the responsibility is now on the caller rather than the operator. It's great to offer the option of helping yourself, but it does take people out of the job market in a time when more jobs are needed.

That coupled with the fact that there is no alternative to the system that would allow you to use your purchasing power to make a statement regarding the type of company you'd like to support.

Back in MN, most grocery stores didn't bag your groceries. You had to either find an upscale, Whole Foods-type place (it was Lund's or Byerly's back then) or the older stores that were nowhere near civilization to have hands other than your own bagging your groceries.

At the end of the day I prefer bagging myself anyway because the stores in IL seem to like using as many bags as possible. While I prefer having them for doggy duty, I don't need one bag for each item.