JC Penney to replace human cashiers with robots

Eric Garland Technology Trends 1 Comment

JC Penney’s CEO Ron Johnson has made a bold statement regarding the future of the company – that it plans to move all of its inventory onto an advanced RFID system and obviate the need for human cashiers.

He claims that this will mean that the money the company does invest in human beings will go right to better service, a stronger connection with the brand. Here’s a long-form quote from Johnson.

RON JOHNSON:  Yeah.  I’ll give you a couple of examples.  We’re rolling out right now WiFi networks, really advanced WiFi to all stores.  We’ll have mobile checkout, you know, rolling out now and in the fall.  But we’re also doing something that no retailer has done completely, is we are going 100 percent RFID with ticketing this fall.

So February 1st next year, the entire Penney’s platform will be on RFID tickets.  Now most people use RFID for internal operations inventory management.  We’re going to jump right to the customer, and my goal in 2013, by the end of 2013 is to eliminate the cash route.  So you think of a physical store without a cash routing.

Can you imagine a Target store without a place to checkout?  You think of a Macy’s store.  But what it does is we currently, about ten percent of all the money we spend, half a billion dollars a year, goes to transactions.  Well that can be done through technology.

So all of that investment in people goes into service, and that’s part of the redesign of the platform, because you go to the Apple store, you feel the people, the connection.  You go to most retail stores, all you see is people doing work to execute the retail strategy.  It’s stocking shelves and transacting business.

That’s going to all change, because of how we use WiFi, RFID, mobile checkout.  You’ll be able to check out anywhere anytime, from anyone including yourself, because we’re going to roll out self checkout to our stores next year, and it’s really cool and it’s really easy because it’s RFID-based.

Capital loves revenue streams that do not involve people, so no doubt the business media will love this. But between manufacturing that uses robots and now retail that uses robots, will the class divide in the world get so sharp that there is a series of robots serving the remaining capital owners and top executives, and everyone else is hanging around loitering? Or will the displaced cashiers take out extra millions to go to college? And what would they do when they graduated?

I find the trend of humans being inconvenient rolls on and on.