Friday, September 16, 2005

Consumers Doing More Store Labor To Purchase Goods

Our waste company "Midwest Waste" gave out new recycling bins the other day. We now have two. The blue one is for "paper" products and the "green" one is for "plastics & aluminum". The city and the waste company seem to be following the trend of most retail stores where they get the customers to do a portion of their labor function like checking yourself out, only here its sorting your recyclables by category instead of lumping them together.

Per the Ballwin City website, here is the reason and benefit for citizens sorting the recyclables instead of the waste company:

Recycling Bins


Through single stream recycling, your recyclables will be picked up in a regular trash truck. However, this truck will only collect recyclables. Trash and yard waste will NEVER be mixed in with the recyclables. This new process allows us to compact this material, without separation. This means you can continue to package your material all in one bin, without having to separate it. Best of all this expanded service is provided without an increase in current rates.

We use to be able to put both paper, plastics, and cans in one single container so the "without separation" benefit cited above is false. They are asking us to do more of their work. The list of expanded items accepted is minimum from what has always been accepted, so the "expanded service........without an increase in current rates", is a big stretch. The increased items being accepted vs. the free labor they are getting is not an even off-set or a gain for the tax payers.

Don't get me wrong, it's not a huge deal or a large amount of work, and I'm very supportive of recycling. But that does not change the fact that the city & waste company are asking customers to do more and more of their job just like lots of retail stores.

Almost every grocery store has the "self check-out" areas where you scan, pay, and bag your own groceries. It works ok and is quicker than the attendant lanes if you have only a couple items, they all have a good bar code, and you are paying with a debit card. If the check out involves items that need to be weighed, are odd shaped or heavy, have a bad bar code, or you want to pay with cash forget it. The worst is if you are buying a product that requires a certain age requirement, i.e.. "beer", you might grow cobwebs before the checkout assistance comes and clears you to continue.

Same deal at Home Depot or Lowes and their self check-out stations. A couple small items with good bar codes and debit card, usually works fine. Anything outside those parameters and you could be in for an adventure.

Retailers save lots of money on reduced labor cost from self checkout. I don't see the pricing coming down or the service going up, so I have to believe that the savings is going to the companies bottom line. They are pushing the self check-out as well. Last weekend at Home Depot they had two cashier assist lines open and the balance was six self checkout. NCR one of the primary providers of scanners to retailers is pushing the product as a bottom line enhancer as well, and I'm sure it adds a healthy percentage to the bottom line:


Per NCR:

Improve the Shopping Experience
Customers demand convenience and want to get in and out of the store quickly. NCR FastLane delivers by speeding up the check-out process. Shorter queues, greater privacy, greater control and more choice make for happier customers and, ultimately, loyal customers. Retailers report up to a 40% reduction in average queue time and throughput gains of up to 20%.

Noticeably missing is a customer satisfaction rating showing high marks for the process which I doubt seriously is what polling shows. If it did, it would be on the NCR website summary..........................

Maximize Labor Resources
Gaining operational efficiency, managing front-end labor costs, and optimizing throughput and customer service levels are primary concerns facing retailers today. NCR FastLane enables retailers to better meet customer service needs throughout the store by redeploying labor from the front-end to other areas within the retail environment.

That's the issue, I see zero increased service throughout the rest of the store. It's the same or worse. If they moved five cashiers out and deployed them to help with the selection of merchandise and Q&A then maybe I'd be higher on the self check-out even though I find it full of bugs and potential delays from my own experience.

I'm pretty progressive from a new and quicker way of doing things especially from a retail perspective. I have not been in a bank for years, love paying at the pump instead of going into the gas station, buy lots of stuff over the web and have it shipped, and use the web or phone-VRU for almost all business transactions. That said, the retail self check-out process needs work and I need to see value added benefits before I embrace it..........................................