Johannesburg – South African grocery chain Checkers last week announced the launch of its first cashier-less food store in the country.
Another retailer, Shoprite, is also developing algorithms to recognise products and increase accuracy before introducing cashier-less stores.
As expected, labour organisations are up in arms over the potential loss of employment as technological advancements take over traditional jobs.
The retailers say the tech makes shopping more convenient by reducing time spent in queues – and it reduces costs on the business owner, thus boosting profits.
Mr Neil Schreuder, chief of strategy and innovation at Shoprite, said: “The idea is inspired by some of the global leaders in this space, that say could we imagine a store where customers don’t have to queue (at the checkout) because it’s a constant pain point.”
But the South African Commercial Catering and Allied Workers’ Union (Saccawu) said any technology that reduced the workforce was not welcome.
“These attempts by retail companies to reduce human interaction are costly and unsustainable for the SA economy. This is a war against the primary agenda of SA government job creation, because South Africa is supposed to talk to issues of job creation,” said Mr Mike Sikani, national co-ordinator of Saccawu.
The country’s biggest labour movement, the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu), weighed in: “We don’t think it’s helpful in an economy that has collapsed, technically…”
However, business analyst Ms Lindie Paro said “the no-checkout technology’s benefits outweigh its cost”.
She continued, “The no-checkout system is more efficient than a traditional grocery store as there is no need to wait in line and waste even more time through making payments and scanning items one by one. The cameras can sense whenever an item is picked up, so theft rates may be decreased as well.”
Ms Paro added that while cashier-less stores would not replace traditional shopping anytime soon, they were a useful option.
In South Africa, a big obstacle to growth of the technology is the fact that a huge proportion of the population does not have an account with a formal financial institution.According to the Oxford Business Group, an estimated 23.5 percent of South Africans are not in any formal system, and R12 billion (US$1.04 billion) in cash is held outside of banks.