Sigh

You Don’t Want to Buy Groceries From a Robot

Well, maybe I do and maybe I don’t. Wonder how we could work out whether I do?

What’s good for business is not always good for people. We need to consider the trade-offs of increasing automation and use our dollars to push for the kind of shopping experience we want and the kind of communities we want to live in.

Ah, yes, that’s right, consumer sovereignty in the marketplace. Those who want robots can use them, those that don’t need not.

39 comments on “Sigh

  1. I must admit, I’m warming to self-service checkouts; they seem to have increased the useability and aptitude of the barcode-recognition software in the last few years.

    The only problem is waiting for the one assistant serving 6-8 machines to unlock the security tag on bottles of spirits.

  2. Just as everyone “thought/agreed” that supermarkets were soulless and destroying the high street. Yet in the end customers preferred to shop at the supermarket and most high streets no longer have butchers and greengrocers.

  3. No, no, NO! There’s no such thing as “consumer sovereignty”. You are entitled to what the bien pensant tell you you ought to want.

    Which is no robots.

    And no exceptions.

  4. It is now over a year and more since I last saw the inside of a super market. I do not miss it and the chaps that deliver are invariably polite and helpful.

  5. “I’m warming to self-service checkouts”: but you’re a woman, and therefore possibly woman-sized. I’m tall, have poor eye-sight and a bad back. So I find them hellish. Or, at least, they were when last I tried one. If They introduce height-adjustable ones, please let me know.

  6. “the chaps that deliver are invariably polite and helpful”: indeed. But the pimply youths who decide which lettuce you’ll get are not. We overheard a conversation between two at Tesco once.

    “How do you get off with it? They must notice.” “Well if they do they never complain.”

    Then again, I’m old enough to remember Jesse Jackson boasting that when he worked in a restaurant he’d spit in food ordered by white people.

    (By the by, that last remark was censored on the proudly libertarian blog Marginal Revolution. Libertarian for Mr Cowen but not for me, apparently.)

  7. McDonalds here you can now go up to a screen, pick your food, pay by scanning your phone and wait for your number to be delivered. Much quicker and easier than ordering from a human.

    Do they have that in the UK yet?

  8. You Don’t Want to Buy Groceries From a Robot

    But reading an electronic copy of a newspaper served up by a computer is fine.

  9. “Ephemeral contact with cashiers and other service workers can be especially important to people at risk of isolation, such as older people who live alone, those with chronic illnesses and the unemployed.”

    But one of the things with old people is how they end up congregating together and how their lifestyle suits certain sorts of “human heavy” businesses better. Supermarkets make lots of sense when you’re busy, have a family and a car, but when there’s 1 of you, with time on your hands, and you don’t want the cost of a car, a butcher and baker make more sense.

    There’s also the thing about using the excess. It’s almost stuck-record neoliberal stuff, but the best way to help with all the “nice society” stuff is making everything as ruthlessly efficient as possible and directing the savings to “nice society”.

  10. “McDonalds here you can now go up to a screen, pick your food, pay by scanning your phone and wait for your number to be delivered. Much quicker and easier than ordering from a human.”

    Got that here in CH now, and they’re trying different variations of it in different restaurants. At one I occasionally use, you even take a number and they bring the food straight to your table (after wandering around aimlessly trying to find you…)

    I rather like the screen-based ordering – far more efficient, less queuing, less mistakes on the order.

  11. Hopefully pubs will get the robot treatment soon. But it will be complimentary to the social interaction. When it’s not busy it’s good to have a chat with the bar staff but when it’s busy they don’t talk to you anyway and all you want is to get your order as soon as possible.

  12. JuliaM said:
    “I must admit, I’m warming to self-service checkouts”

    The hand-held scanners are much better; you scan and bag the stuff as you take it off the shelves, so there’s none of that faff of having to lift it all out of the trolley at the till only to put it all back again. And it gives you a running total as you shop.

  13. abacab said:
    “I rather like the screen-based ordering – far more efficient, less queuing, less mistakes on the order.”

    Depends who you’re behind, I suspect.

  14. ‘We need to consider the trade-offs of increasing automation and use our dollars to push for the kind of shopping experience we want and the kind of communities we want to live in.’

    A little too much ‘we’ for consumer sovereignty.

  15. “The hand-held scanners are much better”: our local Waitrose has had this excellent system for aeons. I described it a couple of times in the comments threads of American blogs. I was firmly told it was impossible.

  16. In several states in America, it’s still illegal to pimp your own petro. An attendant has to do it for safety reasons.

  17. In several states in America, it’s still illegal to pimp your own petro. An attendant has to do it for safety reasons.

    I’m pretty sure that pimping gasoline is legal in all states as long as you meet all the regulatory requirements. Pumping? That’s something completely different.

  18. D J- thanks so they do exist, and they have seemed to have done it properly. That’s a lot of taps, weird this hasn’t caught on yet. Come to think of it very similar to vinneopolis in London.

  19. ‘Ephemeral contact with cashiers and other service workers can be especially important to people at risk of isolation’

    If people are so isolated that they enjoy being asked if they;re having a good day at tesco, they’re seriously not having a good day.

    Re robots in pubs – no way. I was discussing the merits of buxom young barmaids with my wife only yesterday. We both agreed that they were important, though the buxom aspect was more me than her.

  20. It’s fun to watch self-consciously progressive middle-class Hillary Huggers fretting over Whole Foods going Amazon.

    Think about it: Now that Impeach Trump fantasy has flopped, what could be more disconcerting for that flock of turkeys than having their favorite tattooed hipster replaced at the checkout by a robot?

    First World problems are a bitch.

  21. Doesn’t the old rule about not serving drunks mean we can’t have robot bartenders? But yes, we don’t want them anyway.

  22. Must admit I’m a bit wary of entrusting the choice of my fresh produce to someone that buys his meals from Domino’s Pizza.

  23. “Now that Impeach Trump fantasy has flopped”: they’re still trying to find another way. Maybe the swamp denizen Mueller will pull off the coup d’état.

  24. “I was discussing the merits of buxom young barmaids with my wife only yesterday. We both agreed that they were important, though the buxom aspect was more me than her”

    ah well sure its important but not at all times and locations. I know a place that barmaids were helped to become buxom by a regular patron.

  25. Was there any acknowledgement in the article this might have been brought about by minimum wage laws?

  26. There’s no reason robots can’t be pretty.

    Someday we won’t know whether the clerk is human or not.

  27. My wife has remarked that, in principle, she’d rather use a machine than deal with the obnoxious and incompetent chap on the till with whom she had to deal today. Except that the ruddy machines have let her down so often that they are still off-putting.

  28. Ooooh, I love robot salesthings, they have made my McDonalds stock soar.

    @Dongguan: McDonalds had robot kiosks in Barcelona 3 years ago, and they sold beer too. But not through the kiosk, too easy for kids to try to buy it, not that Spanish liquor laws seem to be stringently enforced, or even enforced at all, God love them.

  29. It’s 30+ years ago, but one of the first things I noticed about Spain was that the young were allowed to drink in bars from 14 or whatever, but didn’t. The cool young Spaniards would all be out in the evening, but drinking Coke. Which was more expensive than beer at the time.

    I guess there are no rebel points if you’re allowed anyway, and maybe drinking foreign, indeed American rubbish rather than their own produce would have been one way to annoy the olds.

    I still haven’t seen a drunk Mediterranean, by the way.

  30. “I still haven’t seen a drunk Mediterranean”: we saw one on a bus in Florence the first time I took my wife to Italy. But that’s our total score.

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