Furore over Pick n Pay's self-service tills

Admire Moyo
By Admire Moyo, ITWeb's news editor.
Johannesburg, 29 Sept 2016
There have been mixed reactions on social media over Pick n Pay's move to self-service till points.
There have been mixed reactions on social media over Pick n Pay's move to self-service till points.

Labour unions are up in arms against the use of self-service till points by supermarket chain store, Pick n Pay.

In a first of its kind in SA's retail market, Pick n Pay, the country's second biggest supermarket, is trialling self-service till points at its Observatory branch in Cape Town. The experiment will continue for six months before the retailer makes its next move.

The supermarket says in the trial, it aims to get an idea if the new system will be able to improve customer experience in its outlets.

The machines will operate in addition to the traditional checkout counters where cashiers will still be employed.

"We are always looking for ways to help our customers with convenience," says David North, Pick n Pay's group executive of strategy and corporate affairs. "We have to help the customers to be able to move through the shop more quickly. This is an idea that is popular in other countries and we thought of trialling it here with our customers.

"The process is a simple three-step one which involves scanning, packing and paying. Customer feedback to date has been really pleasing, but it will take up to six months for us to complete the trial and analyse the results to see if this would be an innovation we would want to roll out," says North.

"We see it as an additional service which would complement rather than replace the traditional checkouts. Staff are required to monitor self-service checkouts and there is no impact on employment. Pick n Pay is increasing, not cutting jobs, and is committed to creating 5 000 new jobs each year."

However, labour body Cosatu and its affiliates are not happy with the introduction of the automated system, saying they were not consulted first, and the system puts jobs at risk.

Tony Ehrenreich, regional secretary of the Western Cape region of Cosatu, says the system will have a negative impact on jobs.

Cosatu affiliate, the South African Commercial, Catering and Allied Workers Union (Saccawu), is set to hold discussions with members on the new self-service till points.

Both Saccawu and Cosatu plan to boycott the new machines.

"We have been in discussions as Saccawu and Cosatu with our members at Pick n Pay," says Ehrenreich. "They are opposed to these measures. There will be formal negotiations with Saccawu, the union that represents members at Pick n Pay, and that will reaffirm Cosatu's position that we are opposed to staff-less teller machines."

However, North says there won't be any job losses as a result of the introduction of the self-service checkout tills, as staff will still be required to man these systems to help customers and for security purposes.

There have been mixed reactions on social media about the new system. One Twitter user posted: "Self-service tills at Pick n Pay are bound to please customers and save them time, but obviously job loss is eminent... very tricky."

In another tweet, a user said: "Why is @PicknPay fighting against job creation with their newly introduced self-help machines? The loss of jobs will suffocate our economy."

Self-checkout, also known as self-service checkout and as semi-attended customer-activated terminal machines, provides a mechanism for customers to process their own purchases from a retailer. They are an alternative to the traditional cashier-staffed checkout. In practice, the customer assumes the job of the cashier by scanning and applying payment for the items themselves.

The benefit to the retailer in providing self-checkout machines is in reduced labour costs. Customers who do not want to interact with the cashier or be a part of the queue where the current customer and cashier are conversing can now use the self-checkout to avoid those situations. Self-checkout can also sometimes be faster than using a cashier lane. This can reduce the length of checkout lines and wait times.

Such services are popular in Europe and the US.

However, some studies have shown self-service tills are encouraging shoplifting. According to a recent study by the University of Leicester, self-service tills are criminalising "normally-honest" shoppers who resort to theft because it is so easy and the technology so frustrating.

Leicester criminologists found the cost of stolen items more than doubles after the introduction of self-scanning.