I recently met someone who works for National Cash Register as a service rep. During our time together, we got around to chatting about the future of traditional cash registers and ATMs in our consumer world. As one who spent some time manning a checkout at a local grocery chain, I have an informed but limited opinion as to their future functionality. Many people use an automated self-checkout in the hope of avoiding being caught in long lineups, only to realize that if one is not digitally adept, the experience can be frustrating and unrewarding. It was this person’s respected view, based on technological advances at work in the industry, that big change was already happening, especially in the area of self-checkouts. In a typical urban grocery operation, machines will become both more complex in their functions and simpler in their design. As more millennials come into the system, there will be an increasing need for self-checkout computers that handle greater and more complex orders. To make that happen, the scanning capacity has to be faster and more accurate when it comes to reading barcodes, not always guaranteed in the store where I worked. As my friend pointed out, the effectiveness of any technology is its ability to work under the heaviest of use while still making money for its owners and convenience for its users. While ATMs may be meeting that criteria with room to spare because the volume and complexity of transactions might be light in comparison to grocery shopping, self-checkouts appear to have a ways to go before catching on. For the past four years of shopping here in the city, I have noticed that various stores have personnel on hand to trouble-shoot at the first sign of difficulty. Having been one of those front-end ‘watchdogs’, I know full well what can go wrong in a jiffy. What might start out as a pleasurable adventure can quickly turn into a digital nightmare if the wrong button is pressed, the scanner malfunctions, an error message pops up, or the price is not the current one on the shelf. Furthermore, this device is not up to processing more than 18 items at a time, and cannot do special transactions like bottle returns, cashback, or price checks. Essentially, it is there to take care of small orders while the big ones – $50 dollars or more – are pushed through regular channels. This serviceman was not shy in suggesting that some retail operations that encourage this alternative form of purchasing groceries do not renew their service contracts as the machines begin to break down on a larger scale. That was the case with where I worked, with management being responsible for the installation of new pinpads and other moving parts. To make these operations better streamlined, NCR is creating setups where instore repairs are easier to make and customers feel like the technology is friendly. To that end, all the outcomes like payment, change, receipt, vouchers and codes should be consolidated on one screen like they do with the ATM so that the customer doesn’t have to focus on anything but the transaction at hand. As my acquaintance pointed out, the new equipment has already been rolled out; it just remains for large stores to move on its implementation, as grocery shopping seeks a different direction in the world of automation and, ultimately, robotics. Even with all this new stuff on the horizon, updating prices, reducing shrinkage, stopping shop-lifting, and moving product still requires a prominent human touch that no machine can ever hope to replace. With profit margins being so small and market share so critical to success, I am not sure if the locals are quite ready to take on the next generation of convenient shopping, though I notice Lowe’s has a number of self-checkouts strategically placed throughout its main store on the Island. Moreover, evidence is beginning to show that fewer and fewer people want the onerous job of manning the traditional cash register eight hours at minimum wage if there is something out there to expedite matters.