The argument for less automation


While shopping at Trader Joe’s last weekend, I noticed two things. First, the store doesn’t have any of the usual conveyor belts that pull your groceries towards the cashier. Second, despite this lack of automation, the cashiers are incredibly fast and efficient at ringing up your purchases. This makes me wonder: has the lack of automation actually increased the store’s overall efficiency?

In this case, I would say it has. The employees don’t have the usual crutch of the conveyor belt to lean on, so they’ve just learned to own the whole process and become very speedy at it. I doubt that eschewing technology in this way would work for every aspect of store operations or even for other retailers — you’d have to test it to find out, complete with proper training and incentives for the staff members. But given the current trend to automate everything, it’s interesting to see how the opposite might sometimes be the best approach.