British Columbia

Northern B.C. Walmart to go totally cashier free in favour of self-checkouts this summer

Sociologist Craig Lambert expects more and more stores will do what some Walmarts across Canada are doing, removing cashiers and replacing them entirely with self checkouts.

Terrace store among a 'handful' across Canada to eliminate cashiers in a pilot project

Shoppers at some Walmarts in Canada should expect to be bagging their own groceries when a pilot project eliminating cashiers begins later this summer. (CBC)

The Walmart in Terrace, B.C., a city of more than 11,000 people, is ditching traditional cashiers and switching entirely to self-checkouts. 

Felicia Fefer, Walmart Canada's manager of corporate affairs, told CBC that a "handful" of stores across that country will be part of a pilot project set to begin later this summer. 

"Our customers have embraced self-checkouts as they've rolled out across the country over the past few years," she said in an emailed statement. 

"Our Terrace customers in particular are using the self-checkouts in high numbers, which is one of the reasons the store was selected as part of the test."

Sociologist Craig Lambert describes the work done by cashiers as "shadow work": jobs and tasks that are being offloaded onto consumers that were previously done by a paid employee. 

"There was one time a person who was paid to pump gasoline into cars, there were people who were cashiers, or still are, at supermarkets who get paid to accept your money or check out your groceries and scan all the prices and enter the weight of the vegetables and things and then accept the payment," he said.

"But those people have been replaced in many cases by self-service checkouts."

Fefer said the notion that jobs will be lost as a result of the pilot project is false — the checkout area will be staffed with employees to help customers. 

"There will be no job loss as a result of this change," Fefer said. 

"In fact, our Terrace store is hiring for more than 40 jobs ... as we're launching online grocery at this store in the coming months."

Walmart has opened a cashierless store in Fayetteville, Ark., that offers 34 self-checkout stations. However, the retailer says customers can still ask an employee to scan their goods. (Walmart )

Lambert also noted the absence of human interaction with the switch to self checkouts.

"If you check out every week at a grocery store, you get to know Sarah, who was the regular checkout person," he said. 

"It erodes some part of the social fabric of a small community or even a larger one."

He expects cashier-free stores to increase, because there are incentives for businesses to use technology: machines don't have labour unions, they don't call in sick, they can work 24 hours per day with no complaints and no talking back, and they will do the work day after day.  

Receiving service from a human could one day be a luxury that only the "elite" can afford, Lambert said. 

"But the great mass of consumers are going to be sort of herded into a robotic and a very virtual environment where everybody is encouraged to go online and get answers to your questions."

With files from Matt Allen

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