On consumer facing automation

Cashiers have been replaced by self-service checkouts and kiosks across the globe. Many have seen this as a step backwards; perceiving such methods to be more time consuming and, due to the lack of human interaction, less pleasant. However, the inevitable benefits of automation are being reaped.

As labour costs fall for businesses, consumers benefit because firms continue to compete. Some may see indications that competition is not strong enough for consumers to benefit, and there is some evidence supporting that point. Look at McDonalds, today their share price reaches an all-time high after shares rallied 26% this year, far exceeding the S&P500’s 10% rise over the same period. With their profit forecasts 1% higher than was previously predicted, reaching 3% for 2018 automation appears to be a driving factor in that growth.

I challenge anyone to go to McDonalds and tell me that the service hasn’t been improved by automation. The queues are shorter, because you are served more quickly. The human interaction that has been lost is now replaced by staff bringing your food to your table, rather than your carrying it there. Unlike with the steep learning curve for consumers as seen in supermarket self-checkouts, with McDonalds similar issues have yet to be actualised.

Yes, McDonalds are making more profit, but this is because their services have improved, not despite it. Just as the drive-thru was a fantastic innovation, so are self-service kiosks, but among the more exciting developments is the predictable embrace of UberEats and McDonalds which was finally announced today.

Automation is God’s gift to consumers, and long may it continue.