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Virginia Postrel

Robots Won't Rule the Checkout Lane

Today's shopper needs human cashiers. Tomorrow's shopper will want them.
Don't press the wrong button.

Don't press the wrong button.

Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty Images

To see why robots aren't going to wipe out everyone's job anytime soon, look no further than the annoyed and bewildered customers confronting store self-checkout units squawking, "Unexpected item in bagging area" and "Help is on the way."

Self-service checkout scanners are now standard at most U.S. supermarket and mass-merchandise chains. That might seem great for customers in a hurry. After all, in a June poll, half of U.S. adults picked slow checkout speeds and long lines as the most frustrating thing about shopping in brick-and-mortar stores. A whopping 88 percent would like checkout to be faster, the Harris poll for Digimarc Corp. found.  Americans hate to wait to buy stuff, and expanding self-scanners seems like an obvious way to speed up cash register lines.