Baby boomers say self-checkouts have worsened feelings of loneliness

Baby boomers and ‘silent generation’ blame self-checkouts for worsening loneliness

  • Chat with cashiers is becoming more of a rarity as supermarkets switch to tech 
  • Baby boomers say the spread of self-checkouts worsens feelings of loneliness 
  • Self-checkouts make up for 40 percent of grocery store lanes across US chains 

Baby boomers and the ‘silent generation’ are blaming supermarket self-checkouts for increasing loneliness and wiping out one of their last remaining social interactions.

When 83-year-old Marliss Myers lost her husband, it was her local Albertsons cashier who provided solace.

Workers like Sharon Hechler are determined to maintain that special bond with the elderly, even as almost half of checkout lanes in the US are now automated.  

‘We all need that human, personal touch,’ Hechler told the Los Angeles Times.

Chat with cashiers is becoming more of a rarity as supermarkets switch to tech

Marliss Myers found comfort is heading to her local Albertsons’ store in Arcadia (pictured) and talking with her regular cashier after her husband died 

The number of cashiers is set to decline by 10 percent by 2031, representing 335,000 jobs, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.

But while 84 percent of Gen Z favor self-checkouts, just 46 percent of baby boomers agreed in a survey conducted by gambling site PlayUSA.

The same poll found that two-thirds of Americans said technology has made it harder to meaningfully connect, and almost 70 percent said it has led to a decrease in empathy. 

The silent generation, people born from 1928 to 1945, were not surveyed but the impact the direct human interaction has on their lives is perhaps even more significant.

When Myers collected her shopping from the Arcadia store, Hechler told the Times these brief moments of direct contact would make a huge impact on both their days.

The lively cashier, known for her signature farewell ‘toodle-oo’, has worked for Albertsons for more than 50 years. She enjoys the connections she forms with her customers just as much as they do. 

‘People need people. I just can’t imagine the cold world without checkers,’ Hechler said. 

Since 2014, their bond has slowly strengthened over time. Myers had ended up in Albertsons after her longtime market went out of business, leading to a memorable first encounter as she made her way into Hechler’s queue during their first meeting.

She explained what led her to a new store, and told her that on Fridays, she and her husband ate steak together. 

Hechler called over her manager who explained Myers was a new customer and she was gifted two free T-bones as a welcome gift. 

Myers’ husband would explore the supermarket isles together with his wife after the couple retired in 2015. When he passed away just before Christmas in 2021, Myers gave Hechler a copy of the eulogy.

‘I treasure it,’ Hechler says. 

Baby boomers say the spread of self-checkouts worsens feelings of loneliness

These relationships – referred to as ‘weak ties’ – often treasured yet require minimal personal investment – are a vital part of mental wellbeing the older you get, according to Toni Antonucci, a professor of psychology at the University of Michigan.

‘It’s somebody who makes you feel important in their world. Somebody who makes you feel human,’ she says. 

But the push towards achieving tasks with just a few touches of a screen threatens to drive a wedge between customer and clerk. 

Do-it-yourself kiosks have appeared at gas stations, fast-food restaurants, airlines and theatres in a bid to drop wait times while lowering operational costs. 

For some, however, it’s one of the rare moments in a day they get to have a meaningful interaction with someone else. 

While most supermarkets have a mix of in-person assistance and self-service, cashiers and their unions hold concerns about the push toward automation – as do their customers. 

In one move offering reassurance, a store, Jumbo, in the Netherlands offers a slow-moving lane for older shoppers who might like to have a friendly chat.

Jumbo offers a slow-moving lane for older shoppers 

It’s people like Christy Carr they’re scared of losing. She remembers the regulars, their habits and takes on board little personality traits and details so she can make jokes or look out for them. 

She’s been working for Alberton’s for 35 years, spending the last five at a South LA store situated opposite a senior living community. 

Darryl Jones, 72, is one of the shoppers she cares for. When he comes in, Carr has him on about needing to give the fire department a heads up after the time he burned pork chops.  

‘Those little things really make it important to have a human,’ Jones says. ‘A computer is cold. The courtesy is taken away.’  

While making her customer’s days with kindness in-store is one thing, Carr goes above and beyond –  sometimes offering Betty Kane a ride home if it aligns with her lunch break. 

‘They remember me here,’ Kane said.      

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