The self-checkout aisle in NJ: A time saver or a job killer?
As society's fascination with technology picked up steam nearly a decade ago, New Jersey-based Quick Chek decided to see just how far the public was willing to go.
The convenience store company installed a "fast-lane checkout" option in their Phillipsburg location in 2008. No cashier. Just you, a scanner, plastic bags and a slot for your cash or credit.
An overall positive customer response helped the company decide to equip all future stores with the do-it-yourself option. It also retrofitted some existing sites with the technology.
"We knew customers would embrace it," said John Schaninger, vice president of sales and marketing for Quick Chek. "You get the convenience and speed if you like that, but you also still get our very friendly team members there to talk to you and see how your day's going. It's really the best of both worlds."
Today, self-checkout terminals exist at just under 30 percent of the Quick Check locations in New Jersey.
Quick Chek's approach adds to the ever-growing trend of machine-driven checkouts in New Jersey and across the nation. Supermarkets such as Shop Rite have multiple lanes for the do-it-yourself route. CVS Pharmacy has also added the feature to certain stores, along with a few shops in Newark Liberty International Airport.
And while it may help customers get on with their day a bit quicker, by avoiding lines, there are concerns about the technology's impact on New Jersey's workforce.
Michele Siekerka, president of the New Jersey Business & Industry Association, said while the business model is changing and the association embraces innovation and technology to keep up with society, "there's really nothing like good old customer service and face-to-face communication."
The association's main concern is an impending minimum wage hike to $15 per hour.
"Our members tell us that their slide to that type of innovative technology will happen much faster than it would've ordinarily, given the fact that it will be less expensive to engage in that technology than keep employees in those traditional positions," Siekerka said.
The minimum wage proposal is expected to receive final legislative approval Thursday afternoon, but the assumed route is a veto from the governor, followed by a similar process that would put the issue before the voters on the November 2017 ballot.
According to Schaninger, self-checkout lanes were not part of a "labor-saving initiative."
"We still offer our great team members to service you if you'd like to deal with a team member, or if you're buying lottery," he said.
The register area is never unmanned, he noted. And would-be cashiers have not been replaced by the machines. It just leaves them available to perform other duties or interact with customers.
Contact reporter Dino Flammia at Dino.Flammia@townsquaremedia.com