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June 24, 2019

The Future of Work Weekly News Roundup: June 24

As America’s retail union, the UFCW represents hundreds of thousands of workers across North America’s largest industry. Trends in that industry impact not only our jobs, but our friends, neighbors and communities. That’s why, at the UFCW, we keep a close eye on automation and other evolving technologies in retail.

Here are the big stories we’re watching this week:


Target Tech Failure: Don’t Count on Your Credit Card

  • Two separate nationwide outages at Target stores last weekend brought business to a halt according to the Wall Street Journal. A Saturday computer outage prevented all sales for about two hours at stores across the country and a Sunday processing failure stopped all credit card transactions for 90 minutes.
  • Fast forward to a future where a tech-heavy cashless model is the norm and a glitch like this could bring sales to a standstill for retailers nationwide. With the dependability of cash and cashiers central to the success of every retailer in this country for decades, companies should be asking why they would risk their transactions by relying completely on technology that is vulnerable to these problems. (6/16 Wall Street Journal)

Amazon Go Leaves Shoppers in the Dark About Their Spending

many small white piggy banks on green surface one piggy bank being spot lit

  • Keep to your grocery budget this week? If Amazon has its way you may never know. That’s what one reporter at Inc. revealed when they went shopping at their local Amazon Go store. While his receipt revealed how long he’d been in the store down to the second, it only displays a “total, not the itemized elements” making it hard for consumers to know how much they’d spent and whether prices on the shelf match the price paid.
  • Additionally, the receipt took 30 minutes to arrive in his email after he was done shopping making it even harder to spot errors and fix them. Just as companies use rebates to create the impression of savings while knowing that many customers won’t follow through, Amazon knows that once you spot any pricing errors, you’re not very likely to make the trip back to the store to correct them. This is another subtle way Amazon is able to get you to increase your spending and decrease your savings. (6/16 Inc.)

Costco, Albertsons Double Down on Failed Self-Checkout Despite Customer Complaints

Close up of a person weighing broccoli at a self check out counter at a supermarket

  • Two national chains that previously removed self-checkouts due to customer complaints are now returning to the controversial technology, according to a report in Grocery Dive. Albertsons’ removed self-checkouts in 2011 due to the lack of “human touch” and Costco pulled their machines in 2013 because “employees do a better job.” But now, both companies are once more trialing new self-checkout systems. (6/18 Grocery Dive)
  • However, problems may soon crop up again as studies show self-checkout “doesn’t actually save customers any time and increases theft.” In fact, one self-checkout manufacturer admits that the system was not intended to save shoppers time.

Financial Services CEO Joins Chorus Warning Against Cashless

Elderly money is counting the money in her purse

  • The head of Western Union argues in a new Fortune opinion piece that going cashless is bad for business and for global inequality. Hikmet Ersek says that the rising trend of not accepting cash is “leaving economically vulnerable people behind,” and “leaves a lot of the world’s money on the table.”
  • In Europe, the share of transactions conducted in cash is rising and globally almost a third of the population have no access to digital means of payment.
  • By moving too fast to go cashless, companies perpetuate the stark economic inequality that is already rising and miss out on many potential customers.

Number of the Week: 1,000

Groceries on check out counter

  • According to Business Insider, the number of Walmart stores using AI-powered cameras to track self-checkout theft. The cameras track and analyze activities at both self-checkout registers and those manned by Walmart cashiers. When a potential issue arises, such as an item moving past a checkout scanner without getting scanned, the technology notifies checkout attendants, so they can intervene.
  • This is the latest example of a company pouring millions into tech instead of investing in human cashiers who are much better than a machine at preventing theft. (6/21 Business Insider)

These are the big stories in retail and automation we’re keeping an eye on. We’re always on the lookout for more though. If you have a tip for an article you saw or a personal story about how automation, AI or robotics has affected your job in the retail industry, tell us by emailing press@ufcw.org.