Self-service reaches a new level in Japan. Seen in a store of the LOPIA chain, these self-checkout terminals combine a touch screen, barcode scanner, digital scales, cash feeds (coin and paper) and card payment slots, plus a hanger bar for the shopping bag that must be used to start the process. Not appearing in the photos are the overhead cameras, likely used as a cheat deterrent.
First time to see
radical removal of a gatekeeping person for me was in the early '90s when I repeatedly gained deep insights to electronics factories by doing management system audits. Most advanced were the factories that made mobile phones. Within a year some had converted from line assembly to small teams working in U-shaped stations and replaced the people handing out parts from storage to the line workers with barcode readers connected to cash registers and a self-checkout system. Need parts to keep your station humming? Go get them from the shelf, just register so we can re-order to fill up according to production plan. Drop the delivery slip and sign-off rigmarole. Self-organize, we trust you. Productivity soared.
The future of check-in / check-out
In my view, social and cultural factors determine the speed of this innovation spreading more than technology. RFID, for example, could make self-check-out even easier, possibly faster, but it comes with its own host of recognition problems when attached to supermarket goods. Rather, today's barcodes could get replaced by optical product recognition. For payment, NFC may get adopted as a cashless payment option if people accept the downsides of giving up their shopping profile data in return for cashless convenience.
Like bank ATMs and self-check-in terminals at airports, these time and job savers depend on making the process so simple and foollproof that any interested customer can do it. While discouraging cheating or writing it off as a marginal cost compared to the savings. Such innovation is easy to spread, because it improves profits and convenience. I figure in the long run self check-out terminals will fully replace about 90% of the people currently working shift at the check-out.
Before they join another Occupy movement, what jobs can we offer them next?