Rhode Island Wants to Limit Self-Checkouts in Grocery Stores

Among other measures, bill would require grocers give customers 10% discount for checking out their own groceries
Marian Zboraj, Progressive Grocer
Rep. Megan L. Cotter has introduced legislation that would establish limits on self-checkout lanes at grocery stores in Rhode Island.

New legislation could limit the number of self-checkouts in Rhode Island’s grocery stores. Under a proposed bill, grocers would not be allowed to have more than eight self-service checkout stations operating at any one time per location. Plus, those with self-checkouts also must have a minimum of one staffed checkout per self-checkout.

Democratic representative Megan Cotter is sponsoring the bill, H5161. Cotter says the bill is meant to start a conversation about corporations’ ever-increasing use of self-checkout lanes to reduce the employment of cashiers.

[Read more: "How Food Retailers Can Keep Stores, Offices Staffed"]

According to the bill, self-service checkouts essentially turn customers into unpaid employees and allows grocery retailers to decrease labor costs. 

As reported by The Sun, Cotter said, “Self-checkout is a way grocery stores are avoiding paying employees by getting customers to do cashiers’ jobs for free.”

The proposed legislation would require that grocery stores give customers a 10% discount for checking out their groceries themselves if the order involves 10 or more items. “It seems only fair that if they are going to take on cashiers’ work, the customer should get something in return,” said Cotter.

Grocery stores have already come out in opposition to the proposed bill, according to The Sun. The unemployment rate stands at 3.5% for the state, and the cost of labor remains extremely high, said Scott Bromberg, the president and CEO of the Rhode Island Food Dealers Association.

“It is becoming increasingly difficult for grocers to staff their stores, and a result, a lot of these businesses are opting to find alternative solutions," Bromberg said.

Grocers have continuously struggled to recruit workers since the coronavirus pandemic, and Bromberg said this measure would worsen the ramifications of the hiring shortage.

Meanwhile, the bill also claims that since grocery stores provide many people with their primary place of social connection, increasing the number of self-service checkouts limits human interaction. This social isolation has become a real concern of late for the elderly population. In fact, over in the Netherlands, supermarket chain Jumbo came up with an idea to combat this issue. The Dutch grocer, which has with over 700 stores, introduced a Kletskassa, which translates to “chat checkout,” a special lane for customers who are not in a rush and could use a little talk with the cashier.

Another reason given for restricting self-checkouts in Rhode Island is the increased risk for shoplifting, credit card theft and hacking of customer's personal information associated with this form of checkout.

In a release, Cotter said she doesn’t necessarily expect the legislation to be enacted exactly as currently written; she introduced the legislation as a starting point, and looks forward to the public discussion that will be raised as a result.

“While many people use self-checkout regularly, there are also many people who want the advantages of checking out with a real human being. Stores keep making that harder to do by operating fewer and fewer staffed checkouts and keeping those the lines long to push people toward the self-checkout whether they like it or not. I look forward to hearings on this bill so people have a chance to speak up for their preferences and for jobs,” she said.

Oregon attempted a similar bill that Rhode Island is proposing in 2019 that never got passed.

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