Self checkout might be making Americans lonelier.
Most customers prefer self checkout. But it results in fewer connections with cashiers.
Americans spend more time alone today than in recent decades thanks to technology and other factors.
Americans are lonelier than ever, and self checkout could be part of the problem.
Retailers are increasingly relying on self-checkout kiosks. The technology may save on labor, but it's also cutting down on what social scientists call "weak ties," or casual relationships like those between customers and cashiers, the Los Angeles Times reported on Monday.
This demise of weak ties comes as two-thirds of Americans say that technology has made it harder to interact with others, according to a survey from PlayUSA, a website that covers news in the gaming industry. The US Surgeon General also issued a report this year warning about the health consequences of loneliness exacerbated by technology.
Self-checkout has been around for years. But the technology has lately been expanding to more and more stores. Kroger, for instance, has been operating a store in Tennessee with only self-checkout kiosks since last month, local TV station WKRN reported. Even Amazon Fresh is adding self-checkout stations, after Amazon has spent years trying to get customers to use its Just Walk Out technology.
The option remains popular: about 66% of those surveyed by PlayUSA said they prefer a self-service kiosk over a checkout lane managed by a person. The option was especially popular with Gen Z respondents, 84% of whom said they prefer self-checkout.
But others, especially older shoppers, tend to prefer the face-to-face interactions that come with traditional checkouts, according to the survey. Darryl Jones, a 72-year-old shopper at an Albertsons grocery store in Southern California, told the Times that he appreciates trading jokes with a cashier he's gotten to know at the store.
"Those little things really make it important to have a human," Jones told the Times. "A computer is cold. The courtesy is taken away."
Self checkout is just one of many potential drivers of loneliness in the US. Many Americans have said they can't afford to live in cities with lots of public areas where socializing can be easier. High housing costs have instead pushed some people to the suburbs and more rural areas where interacting with neighbors can be less common.
Broadly, Americans are spending more time alone than they did at the start of the century, according to the Surgeon General's report. In 2019, for instance, the average American spent 24 more hours alone per month than they did in 2003, the report said.
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