Retail is a contact business. Human contact. Consumers are tired of navigating technology when calling a help centre, doing banking or ordering pizza. Consumers want human contact. Or so I think.

Yesterday’s Australian newspaper carries a story about Woolworths forging ahead with its plans to introduce self checkout technology beyond its current pilot stores.

While it may suit Woolworths’ desire to drive down the cost of processing each sale, it takes something away from the retail experience.

Retail is not only about the commercial transaction, it is an opportunity to connect with another human, to share a story or a smile. There is cultural interaction behind the counter, a quip about a news story, a comment on the weather. This is all part of the tapestry of life. These automated NCR self checkout machines have no comment to make or a smile to deliver. They do nothing to serve our need for social interaction.

What a tragedy if the Woolworths trend takes off. Where will high school students get valuable work experience? Who says g’day to those for whom shopping is their only social interaction for the day? What creativity is subliminally stifled by the consistently mundane automated checkout experience?

Woolworths has a social responsibility to interact with its consumers and this move to retreat from human contact sneers at that social responsibility.

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