If I Wanted a Job, I’d Apply For One

Today, I experienced some frustration that annoyed me beyond comprehension. Lovely and I did our best to keep our neighborhood Walmart from closing it’s doors. We had not shopped for groceries for a couple of weeks now, and our cupboards were bare. It was time to give up and shop. The big news during the week was that four Chicagoland Walmart stores closed because they were losing money. It’s my guess that the effect of the relaxation of penalties for shop lifting have been measured, and one of the world’s largest retailers has voted with it’s feet. In other words, “let’s get out of town before they steal the shelves bare, and strip all the copper wire from the building.” Anyway, we did our best to fill a shopping cart with food. We have a habit of guessing how many dollars are in the cart before we check out. Both of us guessed two hundred dollars.

A New Humanless Checkout
The Traditional Human Checkout

Usually, these stores had as many as twenty lines for check out with humans scanning and bagging. Today, there were only two human staffed checkout lines. In their place were two corrals of fifteen self checkout stations with one human overseer. Walmart has aggressively been working on reducing labor costs since the fifteen dollar minimum wage was introduced. Secondly, since COVID there has been, and still is a huge labor shortage.

Lovey and I parked at one of the computer operated checkout stations and began scanning. We bought a lot of fruits and vegetables and learned that scanning cucumbers, peppers, and onions can be challenging. Each piece of vegetable, and fruit has a label with a bar code. It all sounds great except that the labels are tiny and the bar codes don’t read or scan at all. The computer then asks you to find the item in it’s database by clicking on a photo. Of course this took some time, since it was the very first time I tried scanning a tomato, and a green pepper. Neither was shown as a photo on the screen, so it involved typing in a description of the item, or the four digit unscannable number that was on the tiny label, and then answering how many of the item there was. Okay, I got past that frustration, but then proceeded to try to place the items into a plastic bag that hangs on the station. Plastic material is a great collector of negative and positive ions. The bags stuck together agressively. I found myself fighting magnetically adhering plastic sheet stock to get the bags open, GRRR! This final step of the shopping experience taught me to avoid shopping at places where I must do a self check out. After thinking about this for a few seconds I realized I will not be shopping in too many stores because they are all headed in this direction.

This phenomenon is not new. The first labor intensive vendor switched customers to self checkout many years ago. I recall when my dad drove his car into a service station for gas, he stopped by a pump and waited for the attendant to come to his window. Dad asked him to “fill it up with regular,” or “two dollars worth please.” While Dad sat there, the attendant cleaned his windshield, checked the oil, and filled the tires to a correct pressure. Dad handed him money (credit cards weren’t invented yet) and the attendant would make change and give him a Green stamps. Most gas stations were independently owned and operated businesses. When the oil companies took them over to expand the size of the station by adding more pumps they also reduced the amount of service to zero. Car owners were forced to fill their own cars, and to clean their own windows with station supplied water, brush and paper. Today, I use my phone app to dial in to the station location, the pump number and type of gas. The pump communicates with my phone to charge my card. I still have to open the gas tank, and place the nozzle into the filler tube. Perhaps someday soon an AI robot will do all of this for me.

I don’t know if I saved enough money shopping at Walmart to make the aggravation I suffered to warrant going back there again. If Walmart goes out of business at this location it won’t be because they didn’t have paying customers, it’ll more likely be because they didn’t have customers who wanted to do their work for them.

By the way Lovely and I both guessed wrong, the total was $301.