Tue, 1 Oct 2002 08:18:40 +1000
>The Jetsons supermarket
>By Garry Barker
>October 1 2002
>Vale the checkout chick. In the supermarkets of the future,
>groceries will check out themselves. All the customer will
>need is the strength to push a trolley, and a credit card with
>the strength to survive the swiping. In the future every one
>of the 20,000 to 30,000 items stocked will carry a pinhead-sized
>microchip - about one-quarter of a square millimetre - in its label.
The tech PR is so damn relentless: "here's something gee-whizz, and it has
no downsides at all."
1) Heavy metal pollution
...let's imagine the chips are 0.5g; and assume that the supermarket turns
its stock over on a monthly basis; and that there are just 1,000 stores in
Australia. That's 10kg of chips hitting the landfills each month.
Adjust these numbers for real chip weight, real turnover, and the real
number of outlets. It's not nice: the stuff WILL end up in landfills, it
will accumulate, and society, not the retailers nor the vendors, will end up
bearing the cost. Remember, these are circuits purpose-designed to end up in
2) If it doesn't work
...a failure might not mean one checkout held up for the price check in
aisle two, but a complete snarl, with too few staff available to sort things
out, and shoppers' tempers becoming extremely frayed. OK, maybe this is
3) Loss of privacy
With no staff at checkout, a rise in attempted shoplifting is inevitable;
even if the success rate is low. The response to rising shoplifting will
certainly be "more security" - IOW, employment will move from checkout staff
whose role is to try and serve customers, to armed security guards whose
role is to try and protect the store from customers.
And instead of the checkouts being staffed, we'll be shopping while watched
from behind smoked glass, by bored low-wage armed Rambi (plural of Rambo)
who use the cameras to watch nice chicks whenever the place is quiet. Would
I feel more secure?...
This is already happening; some outlets are equipped for tags, others are
not. So shoppers buying from non-tag outlets suffer the embarassment of
setting off alarms in tag-using outlets. This in turn sets up a feedback
mechanism which is to the vendors' favour (but not the shoppers'), because
outlets have to buy the tag systems or risk losing custom.
5) Loss of Choice
5a) With stores automated in this way, the individual choice - to use cash
instead of the card - is further inhibited. And guess what? - it's also one
with the "get rid of trailer trash" syndrome.
5b) Part of the compliance cost goes back to the manufacturer - IOW, this
works to the disadvantage of small manufacturers (who are already shut out
by various practises - they can't afford the cost of sales to the large
retailers, and they can't afford to buy the best shelf space).
<Now I'll duck for cover as the Brave New World screams 'Luddite' at me!>
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