Self-checkout comes to local CVS

David Taber

CANARY SQ.—Shoppers at the CVS at 467 Centre St. can now check off one more item on their list of science fiction conceits-come-to-life at the same time that they check off items on their shopping list.

The Rhode Island-based national drug store chain this month became the second business on Centre Street—following the Stop & Shop in Jackson Square—to offer customers automated self-checkout machines in place of human cashiers.

The phasing out of cashiers—part of a larger redesign of “urban” CVS stores, CVS spokesperson Mike DeAngelis told the Gazette—has raised the ire of some Jamaica Plain residents because of concerns about the company laying off workers during a recession.

That is not the case, said DeAngelis. “Employees who were manning the registers are being redeployed to different areas of the store,” including stocking and assisting customers on the sales floor. “Long-term, there will be no impact on the headcount,” he said.

When asked by the Gazette about potential employee work-hour reductions, DeAngelis’s comments were less decisive. “Hours are regularly adjusted due to business demands, but we wouldn’t tie that to the redesign,” he said.

Employees the Gazette spoke to at the 467 Centre St. store confirmed that there have been no lay-offs or work-hour reductions there so far, but said the installation of the new machines has them “nervous” about their job security.

DeAngelis said the 467 Centre St. store is one of close to 14,000 CVS’s—out of 71,000 stores nationwide—being redesigned. In addition to the self-checkout machines, CVS is adding a grab-and-go grocery section with readymade sandwiches and other foodstuffs at the front of the redesigned stores, and is expanding the stores’ selections of things like groceries and household products. The overall idea is to reposition urban CVS stores as “general stores,” DeAngelis said.

Urban customers use CVS for “multiple, quick shopping trips,” DeAngelis said.

Canary Square-area resident Jeremy Thompson told the Gazette he is concerned about the change-over to self-checkout at the CVS because of the potential threat to employee job security.

“In addition to the obvious pain lost hours and layoffs [could] cause low-wage workers during the worst economic crisis in living memory, CVS’s shift to self-scan checkouts may also lead workers to pick up welfare benefits in the form of government-subsidized health insurance coverage and food stamps,” Thompson wrote in a two-page analysis of the redesign, which he e-mailed to the Gazette.

In the analysis, Thompson noted that those same employees could end up using subsidized health coverage to pay for subscriptions at CVS pharmacy, and food stamps to buy groceries.

In an interview with the Gazette, Thompson said that he still shops at the 467 Centre St. CVS but makes his purchases from one of the few human cashiers left on duty.

He said that CVS’s analysis of how urban shoppers use the store rings true for him. He makes quick trips to the CVS, usually on foot, to pick up a few items. But the old store design and product offerings suited his needs, he said.

DeAngelis said CVS has plans to convert more of its urban stores in the Boston area, but he could not say if JP’s other CVS, at 704 Centre St., is going to be converted.

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