SHOPRITE Holdings has announced its cashierless store, Whitey Basson’s grand vision which includes the expansion of high-speed digital systems.
According to the book Fortunes: The rise and rise of Afrikaner tycoons, Basson considers Amazon one of his favourite companies.
It was therefore no surprise when his company announced a system that was inspired by Amazon Go – the first cashierless store in the world. Amazon Go is a chain of convenience stores in the US and the UK, operated by the online retailer. The stores are partially automated, with customers able to purchase products without being checked out by a cashier or using a self-checkout station.
When a similar concept was announced in South Africa it raised unemployment concerns. Some wondered what would happen to cashiers if the concept was rolled out. These are valid concerns in a country that is considered to have the highest unemployment rate in the world.
The Shoprite announcement is a significant moment for South Africa and its transition to the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
Agricultural technology birthed the farming industry, the Industrial Revolution moved people into factories, and then globalisation and automation moved them back out, giving rise to a focus on services.
But throughout the reshufflings, the number of jobs across the world has increased.
What may be looming is something different – an era of technological unemployment, in which computer scientists and software engineers take us out of work, and the number of jobs declines steadily and permanently.
It is inevitable that the introduction of a cashierless store at Shoprite will change the role of cashiers at Shoprite and other retail stores. It’s a matter of time before the technologies are adopted across the industry.
This, however, does not mean there’s no plan B for cashiers; we just don’t know yet.
What we do know is that as technology destroys one job it creates other jobs. We also know that the speed of such progress can be slow.
The need for human beings will always be there to work with machines or in automated environments. Part of this means that the role of cashiers may change to include enhancing the customer experience. Automation within retail stores may give rise to other forms of jobs.
This development raises the need for South Africa to embark on a massive reskilling programme. The sooner it’s done, the better.