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March 24, 2003

Local Grocers Automate Checkout

GRAND RAPIDS- In keeping with the recently adopted tradition of the customer no longer being always right, several large retail department stores have installed automated checkout points eliminating the need for cashiers. This bold move met with huge resistance from customers who prefer being checked out by people, but surprisingly equal resistance from laid off retail cashiers. In a rally outside the DaMart store in Detroit, protestors carried signs and chanted “We wanna pay people for our stuff” while others panhandled for scraps of food and coins. “We out of work cause of this sh*t. It ain’t fair to fire us and bring in them things and peoples wants us to be there and sh*t,” said Velma Jackson, one of the over 200 cashiers who was laid off over the past two years from DaMarts. “Go head. Ax em.” she continued. “These people just cannot handle the technological changes this world has in store for them and it’s just too bad.” said James Petrone, CEO of DaMarts Inc. “So they don’t like scanning their own products and paying with credit cards. Too bad. I have just about had it with the consumers who think I should design my business around their convenience. It’s my damn store and if I want self service check out, that’s the way it’s going to be. Period.” Many other retail outlets have begun using the automated check out stations and nearly all have met with consumer outrage. Still, smaller stores insist the automated checkouts are necessary to keep the costs to the customers down. “How do they think I can afford to sell them a 2 liter bottle of Pepsi for 99¢ ? How can I stay open for over 8 hours a day five days a week and employ so many people and still be competitive? And the level of intelligence out there is so limited; I don’t think that even if I could afford it, I would want these teenagers working for me. When I was a kid and I wanted a job, I got a haircut and put on some sharp clothes. You should see what we have coming through these doors looking for jobs these days!” said James DePietro, owner of Jim’s Department Store in Greenville. DePietro’s business has shown a sharp decline over the past few months following the installation of a completely automated checkout center, the only totally automated store in the Midwest. “I had a kid with orange and green hair with what looked like lures from my son’s fishing tackle box hanging from his lips, forehead and ears come in asking me for employment. Before I could even tell him no, he demanded at least $10 an hour, since the Gap store at the mall pays at least that! Can you imagine the nerve? I have six clean, quiet productive machines lined up at the exit of my store eagerly reading bar codes and collecting money. Why would I even consider trading that for a circus freak with an attitude?” he said. But the customers have shown businesses who choose to automate what they think of this new trend. “I think it’s just awful. I am 68 years old. I don’t even know what a bar code is, let alone how to scan one. And I like to cash a check at the grocery once in a while. With these things, I have to use a card and I even have to put my groceries in bags myself! All this and it still costs me almost a dollar for a bottle of Pepsi! I am outraged, yes I am.” said Beatrice Purvis of Willow springs. Purvis was leading a group of outraged senior citizens who turned out at a rally to protest the automated checkout machines in Greenville on Wednesday. “To hell with them and to hell with you. I started this business fifteen years ago with just me, my wife and my father. Within five years we tripled in size and had over 12 full time employees. Now I’m back to just me, my wife and these beautiful state of the art machines. I did this; not those old ladies with the picket signs out there in my parking lot. If they don’t like the way I run my business, then they can go over to West Fortune City and shop at Ken’s. But trust me; Ken is just as disgusted with the class of workers he has to choose from too. He and I have discussed the automation of his store and he too is willing to take the minor losses to rid himself of the aggravation of employing hideous creatures from the local high school.” said an irritated DePietro. Ken Hofferman, owner of Ken’s in West Fortune City was unavailable for comment.

It is expected the automated checkout devices will be an increasing presence in stores in the coming years. Lockheed Martin, builders of the machines are working on automated deli slicers and automated produce managers too. The reluctance of consumers has not slowed the technology mainly because as DePietro sated, “What are they going to do? Grow their own fruits and vegetables and hunt for their meat?” He has a valid point. Protesters will be converging on Ken’s store next week in a preemptive picket to persuade him not to automate. It is not expected to have an impact on his decision. Ken has reportedly already ordered six of the new machines.

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