Stephen Ames Berry
“In every well-ordered society…the rights of the individual may at times, under the pressure of great dangers, be subjected to restraint, to be enforced by reasonable regulations, as the safety of the general public may demand.” Justice John Harlan 1905
Responding to vaccination resistance during a smallpox epidemic, the US Supreme Court found in 1905 found that Americans do not have an inalienable right to sicken others.
Yesterday when shopping at the Herkimer New York Walmart, I had to call for assistance 4 times at the self-checkout, as the software failed to recognize some scanned items, including fresh produce and cat food. My daughter had a worse experience that same day, trying to use her EBT card. After 30 minutes of shopping, her purchase was canceled and all items returned to the shelves due to a single item recognition failure.
The cashier guessed that it was because she used her EBT card to purchase organic carrots. It is normal for humans to attribute cause to action, but the untrained Walmart clerk’s analysis was wrong: In New York, organic food products can be purchased with SNAP benefits. My daughter noticed that many carts ladened with food were being returned to the shelves by employees.
Walmart’s Deficient Image Capture Checkout Software
It’s apparent that Walmart’s point of sale software is using image capture to verify checkout items. When the barcode or customer-identified item does not agree with the image, the item is rejected by the checkout system. For an EBT purchase, the entire purchase is terminated. This is demoralizing and disrespectful to customers. The Walmart staff is obviously not trained to handle this situation, easily triggering a conflict between the staff member and the frustrated customer.
That my order, purchased with a debit card, wasn’t canceled but my daughter’s SNAP-based purchase was, indicates a value judgment by Walmart staff that SNAP benefit recipients are inherently suspicious.
(When my daughter objected to the cancellation of her order and the rudeness of the customer service rep, the checkout employee called security and store management.)
A better approach would be to publicly identify certain Point of Sale self-checkout machines and let the customer decide to use them as a part of an announced beta test of the software. Customer time should not be wasted because Walmart software doesn’t work. Employees should not speculate about invalid items and should be trained to treat all customers with respect.
Walmart is generally the least expensive and best-stocked place to buy food. Walmart is a leader in Business Intelligence and is planning to fully automate stores, as is Amazon. Change can be challenging–those considering a career in retail should look to other occupations that aren’t so easily automated.