By Amelia Roth-Dishy
Fairway Market’s flagship location on 75th Street and Broadway has installed a fleet of self-checkout kiosks— and they are already a hot topic on the Upper West Side.
The machines, which were inaugurated on Tuesday in advance of the Thanksgiving shopping rush, have replaced the market’s popular “Express Lane,” which purportedly expedited checkout for customers with 10 items or fewer (though the experience was often more akin to riding the 1 train than the 2/3.)
Reactions have been mixed. One Upper West Sider wrote to the Rag, “This new system is bewildering and difficult! All around me customers were flummoxed, and the number of staff assigned to helping people check out added up to plenty of people who could be cashiers instead.”
The self-checkout line was quite long on Sunday afternoon, snaking through the store and stretching beyond the entrance. Shoppers did not seem to realize that the lines for regular checkout, in aisles 7, 8, and 9, were still operative. Nonetheless, customers seemed generally satisfied with the new machines as they left the store.
“It went very well,” said Anne, a customer who used a kiosk to purchase a few items.
Another shopper who had just utilized self-checkout remarked to the Rag in passing, “It’s fine. They’re very helpful.”
“You can’t please everybody,” Michael, an assistant store manager, said. “Since we put it in, some people, they’re happy about it, they love it, and some people, they hate it, but it’s about technology today and we did this to try to speed up the process,” he added, noting that at least 2,000 customers per day have utilized self-checkout since the machines were set up.
According to Michael, all Fairway locations have transitioned their express lanes to self-checkout lanes. They have no plans of automating the rest of the registers.
Norma Riccucci, an Upper West Sider who lives near the store, found the self-checkout transaction process to be smooth. “My only concern is demand for labor going down,” she said. “How many people did you fire to put in these machines?”
While many Fairway customers have approached Michael this week to ask the same question, he insisted that no employees lost their job as a result of the self-checkout transition. “We didn’t fire anybody,” he said. “That was not the intention behind all this.” The checkers without stations now have other positions in the store, primarily in roles that support the functionality of the machines themselves. On any one shift, Michael said, “we have at least three people to do override and to make the line flow smoothly.”
Indeed, a number of employees roamed the lane and assisted shoppers with figuring out the new technology or conducting manual override for miscounted items.
“It’s making everybody’s life easier, especially this week, obviously it’s Thanksgiving week,” Michael said. “We both, customers and us, are gonna benefit from self-checkout.”
The Whole Foods location on 97th and Columbus Avenue also transitioned a number of their checkout stations to self-service kiosks in October as part of a company-wide initiative. The Rag has reached out to Whole Foods, which is now a subsidiary of Amazon, for comment.