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Technology replaces unionized retail workers

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  • Technology replaces unionized retail workers

    These two stories provide some insight into why middle-class jobs are disappearing for low-skilled workers. Just as self-service gas stations have eliminated jobs for pump jockeys, supermarkets are reducing the number of cashiers in response to competitive forces.

    http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/...op?ft=1&f=1001

    Vending Machines Make Gains As Retail Jobs Drop

    Now that it's common to see self-service kiosks at groceries and airports, are we ready for completely self-service stores? Note that in this case, "Self-Service" is the preferred term for "soullessly automated and cheap." And by "ready," I mean: Do those salespeople have other jobs lined up — and are the rest of us up for losing yet another source of human interaction?

    Today's news that the U.S. economy added 192,000 jobs came with the caveat that despite growth elsewhere, retailers actually cut back their payrolls.


    http://www.latimes.com/business/la-f...,6578831.story

    Retail jobs are disappearing as shoppers adjust to self-service

    Automation — long a force in agriculture and manufacturing — is accelerating in the retail sector, a trend that could hamper efforts to bring down the nation's stubbornly high jobless rate.

    In an industry that employs nearly 1 in 10 Americans and has long been a reliable job generator, companies increasingly are looking to peddle more products with fewer employees. Shipping and warehousing workers are being replaced by robots that can process packages more efficiently than humans. Virtual assistants are taking the place of customer service representatives. Kiosks and self-service machines are reducing the need for checkout clerks.

    Vending machines now sell iPods, bathing suits, gold coins, sunglasses and razors; some will even dispense prescription drugs and medical marijuana to consumers willing to submit to a fingerprint scan. And shoppers are finding information on touch screen kiosks, rather than talking to attendants.

    Corona vending machine firm AVT Inc. is designing a fully automated gas station that will dispense gasoline, snacks, bottled drinks, even hot coffee with the swipe of a credit card — and not a single clerk. Some motorists may not like the concept; after all, these stations won't have bathrooms. But AVT is betting that some filling station owners will love it. AVT's smart vending machines don't demand paychecks, call in sick or give incorrect change. They work 24 hours a day and give instant feedback on sales and inventory.

    "It's just like anything else that develops over time, with retail," said Brentt Arcement, vice president of investor relations for AVT. "It's sort of that evolutionary process of what's next."

    In January, the U.S. employed 14.5 million retail workers, 1.1 million fewer than in January 2008. Although many of those job losses can be attributed to the Great Recession, experts said lean times have encouraged retailers to rethink their operations and figure out new ways to do more with fewer hands even as the economy improves.

    Retail employment has barely budged over the last year despite stronger sales at major chains. Meanwhile, $740 billion was transacted through self-service machines in 2010, up 9% from 2009, said Greg Buzek, president of technology research firm IHL Group of Franklin, Tenn. He projects that will rise to $1.1 trillion by 2014.

    That concerns some economists, including automation expert Martin Ford, who notes that low-skill retail jobs have become the employment of last resort for many Americans. Now it appears that even those positions could become less plentiful.

    "We have a service economy, and the service sector is starting to automate," Ford said. "We've seen that technology does destroy jobs in those sectors."
    Get the monthly that has L.A. talking. Subscribe to Los Angeles Times Magazine at a special introductory rate.

    The shift is as close as the corner store. Like gas stations and banks before them, supermarkets are encouraging patrons to avoid cashiers. Most major grocery chains have equipped their stores with a few self-service lanes, which research has shown boosts revenue and profits.

    Shoppers at Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market, a subsidiary of British retail giant Tesco, don't have a choice — all checkout stations at the chain's 156 U.S. outlets are do-it-yourself. Customers like the speed and shorter lines, said Brendan Wonnacott, a company spokesman.

    "It's part of being a modern grocery store," he said. "And keeping our checkout process simple helps keep our costs low."

    Fresh & Easy customer Andre Najera said self-service machines make the checkout process faster — and less embarrassing when he is buying personal items that he'd rather not hand to a cashier. The Alhambra resident has become so adept that he now opts for machines over humans, even in stores that offer a choice.

    "Sadly, it might be taking away someone's job, but it's much more efficient," said Najera, a 36-year-old IT worker.

    Others aren't convinced. Bob Ebinger, 56, recently selected full-service at a Ralph's in Hollywood, where he was buying a cartload of food and cat supplies.

    "If you have as many items as I just bought, you would hold up the whole line bagging them," he said.

    Gains in productivity are vital for the long-term health of any economy. But in the short term, the weak labor market is tough on jobless retail workers such as Melanie Teter. The single mom and Orange resident has stocked shelves at Wal-Mart and sold Halloween costumes and party supplies at Party City. But despite submitting dozens of applications the last five months, she still hasn't been hired.

    "There are so many people applying for jobs," she said.

    Meanwhile, business is looking up at AVT, the Corona vending machine maker. The company posted revenue of $4.2 million through the first nine months of 2010, up 71% from the same period a year earlier. It also squeezed out net income of $50,000 after losing nearly $250,000 in the first nine months of 2009.

    And a story by Alana Semuels in today's L.A. Times suggests a possible reason: vending machines. Pinched by a weak economy, retailers are desperate to become more efficient. And it doesn't get a lot more efficient than a vending machine. They don't need benefits, or even a paycheck. They don't steal or call in sick, either. And to top it off, they also have strong math skills.

    Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored. -- Aldous Huxley
    Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity. -- Albert Einstein

  • #2
    Great just what we need, a friend of mine lost his job because he got replaced by that machine.
    Life is what you make of it

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    • #3
      Personally, I love the self check-out. For some reason, I can clear the store so much quicker when I don't have to wait for the slow cashier who's too bored or pre-occupied to provide decent customer service.
      Originally posted by kontemplerande
      Without Germany, you would not have won World War 2.

      Comment


      • #4
        I hate self checkout. I get so irritated at a stupid manchine telling me where to set my stuff. So very tempted to empty a mag into them.
        sigpic

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        • #5
          Here are some examples. Sadly, most of these machines are more pleasant to deal with than the humans they replaced. The automated post office is the best thing EVER, takes less than a minute and hardly ever a line. If you wait for a person you are in line for 30+ minutes and get an angry person who would rather be doing anything but helping you.













          Originally Posted by VegasMetro
          maybe it’s me but I think a six pack and midget porn makes for good times?????

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          • #6
            The DVD things will all be going away soon, netflix is taking that industry over, along with a few other alternatives similar to mail order/web based movies.

            Comment


            • #7
              So where will the new jobs come from? I just read an article in the NY Times about automation/computers doing jobs previously done by engineers, accountants, lawyers... So it's not just menial jobs.

              Or will we just have an economy that needs far fewer jobs than we have people?
              Last edited by zr5667; 03-05-2011, 05:39 PM.

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              • #8
                Originally posted by zr5667 View Post
                So where will the new jobs come from? I just read an article in the NY Times about automation/computers doing jobs previously done by engineers, accountants, lawyers... So it's not just menial jobs.
                Some basic work of engineers can be done by computers, but most engineering still needs innovation and vision. Both are things that computers lack. Accountants have been hanging on by a thread for years and will soon be a forgotten art. Lawyers, on the other hand, need to have their ranks thinned significantly.

                Originally posted by zr5667 View Post
                Or will we just have an economy that needs far fewer jobs than we have people?
                Here's the long and short of it, jobs will change. The ability of worker's to step out of a general high school education and into a well paying jobs is over. People will have to adapt to the changing environment. While many jobs of yesterday and today are being taken over by automation, many new jobs are being born. The simple answer is that machines need maintenance and repair. Beyond that, there are jobs out there that were unheard of just a few years ago. I remember reading an article not long ago that the top 5 expanding job markets of today didn't even exist 10 years ago.

                Unfortunately, we are a nation that is still educating our kids by 1950's standards.
                Originally posted by kontemplerande
                Without Germany, you would not have won World War 2.

                Comment


                • #9
                  I agree that new careers will come along, but automation seems like something that might have the ability to reduce jobs faster than new types of jobs are created.

                  Of course, I'm sure people said the same thing about mechanized farm equipment and other feats of the industrial age, so hopefully I'm wrong and just a pessimist.

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Originally posted by SRT936 View Post
                    Unfortunately, we are a nation that is still educating our kids by 1950's standards.
                    You'd think conservatives would like that. Look at what Texas is doing to textbooks. After all the definition of conservative: disposed to preserve existing conditions, institutions, etc., or to restore traditional ones, and to limit change. Bill Oreilly still doesn't understand the relationship between the moon and the tides here on Earth, so go figure.
                    "The deepest human defeat suffered by human beings is constituted by the difference between what one was capable of becoming and what one has in fact become."

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                    • #11
                      Originally posted by mjhoyt27 View Post
                      You'd think conservatives would like that. Look at what Texas is doing to textbooks. After all the definition of conservative: disposed to preserve existing conditions, institutions, etc., or to restore traditional ones, and to limit change. Bill Oreilly still doesn't understand the relationship between the moon and the tides here on Earth, so go figure.
                      You know, using the dictionary definition of "conservative" is such a poorly constructed argument that I'm surprised you'd use it....
                      Originally posted by kontemplerande
                      Without Germany, you would not have won World War 2.

                      Comment

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