Baby boomers and the ‘silent generation’ are pointing fingers at supermarket self-checkouts, attributing them to an increase in loneliness and the disappearance of one of their last meaningful social interactions.
A Special Connection Lost
For 83-year-old Marliss Myers, who lost her husband, it was her local Albertsons cashier who provided solace and human connection.
Workers like Sharon Hechler are determined to preserve this special bond with the elderly, even as almost half of checkout lanes in the US are now automated.
‘We all need that human, personal touch,’ Hechler emphasized to the Los Angeles Times.
However, the number of cashiers is expected to decline by 10 percent by 2031, representing 335,000 jobs, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Generation Gap in Acceptance
While 84 percent of Gen Z favor self-checkouts, only 46 percent of baby boomers agreed with this sentiment in a survey conducted by a gambling site, PlayUSA.
The same poll unveiled that two-thirds of Americans believe that technology has made it harder to form meaningful connections, with nearly 70 percent stating that it has led to a decrease in empathy.
Silent Generation’s Unsurveyed Impact
The silent generation, those born from 1928 to 1945, were not surveyed, but the impact of direct human interaction on their lives is potentially even more significant.
The Power of Small Connections
Sharon Hechler, known for her signature farewell ‘toodle-oo,’ has worked for Albertsons for more than 50 years and cherishes the connections she forms with her customers just as much as they do.
These relationships, often referred to as ‘weak ties,’ are crucial for mental well-being as people age, according to Toni Antonucci, a professor of psychology at the University of Michigan.
They make individuals feel important and human.
Automation Threatens Human Connections
The push towards task automation with just a few touches of a screen threatens to create a divide between customers and clerks.
While self-service kiosks have become common in various industries to reduce wait times and operational costs, for some, interactions with cashiers represent rare moments of meaningful human connection in their day.
The Concerns of Cashiers and Customers
Most supermarkets maintain a mix of in-person assistance and self-service options, but cashiers and their unions, as well as some customers, express concerns about the growing emphasis on automation.
Preserving Human Interaction
In response to these concerns, some stores, like Jumbo in the Netherlands, have introduced slow-moving lanes for older shoppers who appreciate friendly chats.
Cashiers like Christy Carr at Alberton’s have built deep connections with their regulars, adding a personal touch to their shopping experience.
The Importance of Kindness
Christy Carr, who has been working for Alberton’s for 35 years, exemplifies the significance of human interaction.
She remembers her customers, their habits, and details about them, making jokes and looking out for them.
To her customers, it’s these small gestures that matter the most.
As technology continues to advance, the debate between automation and preserving human connections at places like supermarkets remains a critical topic, especially for older generations who value these interactions deeply.