woman at self checkout
Brittany Hambleton
Brittany Hambleton
June 23, 2020 ·  3 min read

Say goodbye to cashiers: Walmart store switches to self-checkout only

Self-checkout machines have been appearing in seemingly every store across the country. Whether you’re at your local grocer, hardware store, or McDonald’s, you can choose between the traditional cashier model, or to do it yourself. The retail giant Walmart, however, may be moving toward a future where customers have the choice made for them. Starting in Fayetteville, Arkansas, the company is experimenting with a self-checkout-only model, and if things go well, they could have the rest of their locations switch to the same model.

Walmart Self-Checkout

A Walmart in Fayetteville, Arkansas is offering only self-checkout machines as a test for the company. Instead of cashiers, there will be self-checkout hosts at the front of the store to assist customers, or even to check out customer’s groceries if they prefer it [1].

If this experiment is successful, the company says it will put the same setup in place in other stores across the country. They did not give a timeline as to when this will happen, but that the timing will depend on several factors, including input from employees and customers.

Walmart representatives that they want this process to be as easy as possible for both customers and associates [2].

Read: Senior Citizens Are Replacing Teenagers as Fast-Food Workers

Cost-Savings for the Retailer

Self-checkout machines have become popular at many retailers across the country for one reason: cost savings. Having customers do some of the work that would normally be done by a paid employee cuts down overhead costs.

For example, a report from the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation found that the cost to check someone in at an airport at a staffed desk is about three dollars. When a customer uses an electronic terminal, that cost drops down to just fourteen cents [3].

This savings, however, is often not passed on to the customer.

Advocates of self-checkout machines also argue that many customers enjoy the privacy and autonomy that they provide. Christina Forest, a senior project manager for Fujitsu, which makes self-checkout machines, says that some people like to be in control of what’s going on and have a more private experience.

“So if I’m going in and buying something that’s maybe a personal item, I might prefer to buy it on my own without help,” she says [3].

The Backlash Against Self-Checkout Machines

Despite the increasing prevalence of self-checkout machines, there is a growing number of people who are opposed to them. Some customers are beginning to resent doing “unpaid work”. 

Craig Lambert, author of Shadow Work: The Unpaid, Unseen Jobs That Fill Your Day, says that today, we are doing a lot of work that used to be done for us by someone else.

“You may choose to do it — some people think it saves them time, gets them out of the gas station quicker. But there is a price to be paid,” he says [3].

Many customers find the automated machines difficult to use, and they often have to ask for help anyways. There is typically only one or two workers presiding over sometimes half a dozen or more machines, so customers end up taking longer to buy their groceries than they would have otherwise.

“You have a thing of floss and you’ve already put it in the baggage area and it’s not reading it and then you’re going, ‘Sir, sir, ma’am, ma’am, I need help,’” says one customer [4].

Others are concerned about putting cashiers out of work.

“The cashiers need the jobs,” said one customer [4].

A Cashier-Free Future?

While it is likely that self-checkout machines are not going away, we are probably not going to lose cashiers altogether- at least not yet. Many customers prefer using a cashier, and even if self-checkout machines save the retailer some money, most retailers won’t be willing to risk unhappy patrons.

As for Walmart, the future of their cash-out system will depend on Fayetteville, Arkansas. If the experiment goes well, it may not be long before we see cashiers disappearing from Walmart counters altogether.