Saint Lorraine, the champion of lost causes.
I know. There is already an official desperation saint – Jude, but my self-anointing act is for a very specific cause: we need to get rid of self-checkouts in stores and iPad ordering in restaurants. Every time I see new self-checkouts appear, I see real people losing their jobs.
Home Depot has done it for years, but their system is so hopeless they have to have someone oversee each transaction anyway. Ikea’s checkout area reminds me of a cattle drive, and half the time I’m not sure what chute I’m standing in. So I leave, my Bostrom candleholders (that’s my private inside baseball Swedish joke; you can Google it) stuffed in a bin, having checked out with neither a real person nor a machine — no doubt assembled with an Allen key and much swearing.
I noticed a McDonald’s last year sporting kiosks so you could order your own, but I also noticed the strained looks on the faces of the staff who knew their hours were about to be cut as well as their numbers. Shopper’s Drug Mart installed a row recently, and I resolutely ducked them like I do the others, though I know it’s pointless.
Automation has rewritten many industries, and we don’t question that robots assemble our cars, our electronics, our food and everything else. It’s been happening for decades, yet as we decry the loss of good jobs on this side of the world we continue to buy ridiculous amounts of junk made on the other. The reason that television and those shoes are so cheap is because your neighbour didn’t make them. Hell, they’re so cheap, it’s not even worth having another neighbour repair them when they break; buy new ones!
And so we’ve watched job creation be mainly in service sectors, where you ask one person to supersize that before you head to the next place and ask another if those jeans make your butt look big. We don’t need anyone to build, it seems, though we do need to be served, and we continue to consume. Bricks and mortar malls are hollowing out, once meccas of consumption now leaving communities pondering what do with acres of … nothing. How many fitness places do we need? We order everything online, including the next computer to continue ordering online.
But now even those service jobs are under threat, in our quest for streamlining.
I can barely – just barely – remember when my mom’s groceries were bagged (in paper) at Steinberg’s by a separate bag boy. What’s a bag boy, you ask. Then checkers did the bagging, and you marvelled at the skill involved in creating the perfect balance by weight and volume; this one has your eggs in it, be careful. Now, of course, your groceries tumble down the belt askew, buttons pushed to hurry things along, those peppers you carefully chose mashing against the shampoo bottles like elevator doors encountering a hand or a foot.
Maybe you want to do away with those who take your order, who scan your merchandise. Maybe we’ve made their jobs so thankless, we believe we’re better off without them. Maybe we can quantify mistakes made; I worked retail for a decade and our mistakes were real, and counted, and sometimes caused a customer inconvenience.
But I also helped your youngster buy your birthday present, I lifted heavy things into your car, I called you when something came in that I knew you were waiting for and I suggested things that might work when what you wanted was sold out.
It’s called customer service. If you want it, you have to help protect it.