The COVID War has sped retailers’ conversion to automation, permanently dooming many of the 1.7 million jobs in leisure and hospitality and 270,000 retail slots that disappeared during 2020’s economic crisis.
The Toast restaurant group and other eateries are moving to order management software that lets diners order from their tables over their phones instead of by talking to a human server.
The Foamy Wader, a jewelry store on Whidbey Island off Washington state, has posted QR codes beside items displayed in the store window. Shoppers can scan the codes to buy.
Shoppers now come into the store only to pick up orders or to consult on sizing or custom designs, allowing owner Alexa Allamano to dispense with her only employee.
Automation usually makes gains during economic hard times as businesses seek to maintain productivity while lowering costs, which often means dispensing with human workers and their fringe benefits, according to labor economists, the Financial Times reported.
Rote jobs are most vulnerable to being replaced by machines and women without college degrees are most likely to be turfed out, the FT said, citing the thousands of administrative assistants, payroll clerks, and others that lost jobs during the Great Recession, as reported by a study from the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia.
The COVID crisis gave the latest conversion to automation an additional push, as businesses and their customers both sought to reduce human-to-human contact as much as possible, as we noted in “Shutdown Permanently Erased Jobs” (20 Jul 2021).
“The whole thing has been a big product [placement] ad for tech solutions,” Mark Muro, who studies technology at the Brookings Institution, said to the FT.
TREND FORECAST: On a recent trip, we experienced this trend first-hand when we found an automated checkout stand but no human clerk at a highway stop where we paused to buy water, newspapers, and other supplies. This is just the beginning. As the world goes digital, so too will checkouts. And as technology continues to advance, just as machines replaced humans during the industrial age, so too will robots replace yet more humans during the Hi-Tech Age.
TRENDPOST: Automation’s current acceleration bears out our Trend Forecast made 1 December, 2016: Virtually every industry will be significantly impacted or transformed by the expanding capability and affordability of robot and intelligent automation. Innovations will sweep across virtually every sector of commerce, business, jobs, and professions.
Society has yet to confront the reality of millions of people no longer employable, how they can be retrained, and how they are to be supported until they can earn again.