The introduction of self-service technology within the South African retail sector has been problematic since Pick n Pay trialed the first self-service checkout system at their Observatory store in 2016. In a renewed ambition, Shoprite Checkers announced plans to pilot a cashier-less food store.

Using their smartphone, customers simply walk into stores and initiate their shopping experience by way of a personal QR code from an app. After picking grocery items, customers are charged via their digital wallet, or alternatively POS auto-populates the customer's cart for checkout. Watch the promotional video below:

Promotional video for Shoprite Checkers cashier-less food store

As digitization has expanded, so has the adoption of self-service technology in various sectors of the economy. Electronic dispensers serve essential medication long after business hours, offering greater access to healthcare. Self-paying kiosks for parking are standard features at shopping malls. Self-check-in kiosks at airports save much-needed time, in between transit.

The controversial push to fully automate retail has however not been received well by retail workers and unions, fearing massive job loss. Shoprite Checkers boasts a strong workforce of over 140 000 employees. In fact, with cashiers earning an average salary of R4478, the supermarket sector is the largest private-sector employer in the South Africa labor market. In light of these figures, their fears are legitimate. The question over jobs, was again of great concern in 2013 when the South African petroleum industry was considering the adoption of self-service petrol pumps. Earning an average salary of R5250, petrol stations employ around 70 000 petrol attendants nationwide.

Africa has around 280 million active online shoppers. The rise of e-commerce has propelled and reinforced the consumer experience of using self-service technology to purchase goods and services. In January 2021, Takealot recorded 13.2 million visits on its website over a 30-day cycle. 96% of traffic was registered in South Africa. Daily shopping visits are forecasted to increase as trust, reliability, and confidence grow amongst online shoppers.

Lebo Likhojane, the founder of South African based SmartSentials, an online retail store, remarked that β€œthe retail industry like many other industries is going through a digital transformation that sees us using technology for the betterment of processes. Many are worried about job losses, however; I believe as technology advances people should also advance. I see a lot of opportunities for job creation in automated customer services, warehousing, and logistics. The government must speed up with internet access to create jobs.”

Aligning retail workers to skills needed for β€˜jobs of the future is essential for employee retention. The retail sector, as is in banking, transport, and mining, etc., is rapidly substituting human labour with machinery and computation. Beyond the supermarket, all workers across industries have a responsibility to self-determine how they integrate their work experience with computer literacy. Tools of labour are changing, update your operating software!

Share this via: