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22 October, 2021

Out with the supermarket cashier, in with personal shoppers

HOW many people do you know who worked at a Coles or other large supermarket as their first job? Did you?

By David Gardiner

Traditional first jobs as a checkout operator in the local supermarket are fast disappearing, as self-serve scanning machines take over.

High school students are increasingly finding that their options are diminishing for job prospects and even work experience.

It was not only the handy pocket money from the part-time work as a checkout cashier that young people enjoyed, they also got to learn valuable lifelong social, business and community skills by being behind the counter.

Supermarket giant Coles only recently confirmed that the traditional checkout operator’s days are numbered, and that more and more automated machines are being fitted in their stores.

Some of the checkout operators might be re-deployed in other areas such as shelf stocking during the day, meaning also that jobs by traditional ‘night-fillers’ may be increasingly replaced.

In a national data modelling study by the Australian Computer Society in 2020, it was estimated that up to seven million Australians are at risk of having their jobs automated out of existence or augmented by robots and artificial intelligence by 2034.

Other studies have indicated that as many as 150,000 cashier jobs could be wiped out as technology replaces people. 

It’s not all doom and gloom though for the supermarket retail sector as far as future jobs go.

The bigger supermarket companies like Coles and Woolworths are reporting that – partly due to the COVID-19 pandemic – there has been a growth in demand for online delivery and personalised shopping – where customers order online and then go to the store to collect their shopping, or have it delivered to the car - ‘direct to boot’.

“We’re seeing more and more of our customers turn to the convenience of our online delivery and direct to boot services across the country, including in Far North Queensland,” a Woolworths spokesperson told Cairns Local News.

This shopping shift has recently seen a major employment drive in the supermarket giant’s far north Queensland stores, which has partly offset the decrease in cashier jobs brought about by self-serve machines and automation generally.

 “In recent months, we’ve hired more than 200 permanent team members across our local stores, many of which are personal shoppers who carefully hand pick and pack online orders for our customers,” the spokesperson said.

 “We’re pleased to be creating new jobs across Far North Queensland, and are set to begin recruiting for more new roles in the coming weeks.

 “We’ve received great feedback from our customers on our time-saving home delivery, pick up and direct to boot services as we work to offer our customers convenient ways to shop in-store and online.”

Prospective Woolworths employees have been urged to go to the company’s website where they might find an opportunity to join the growing team of ‘personal shoppers’:

As a result of increased demand for online services over the past year, Woolworths has upgraded its Cairns Central, Smithfield and Earlville stores to allow the store teams to provide direct to boot services to more customers.

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