QR code replaces service staff as pandemics spur automation

Taylor Nicole Rogers

Alexa Allamano was paying a woman to work as a part-time salesperson at a jewelry store in Whidbey Island, Washington. But when Foamy Wader resumed its months of closure due to the coronavirus crisis in October, the work was done by a QR code.

Alamano has rebuilt the store so that passers-by can use their smartphones to scan the QR code next to each item to make purchases as they browse the window display.

“It’s like online shopping, but in reality,” Alamano says.

Currently, Alamano works alone, with customers simply visiting the store to accept orders and consulting on custom-made products.

American workers in manufacturing plants and distribution centers have long been worried that employers could find ways to replace them with robots and artificial intelligence, but the Covid-19 crisis threatens service workers as well. Brought. Companies are increasingly looking at automation tools for customer service tasks that have long been performed by low-paying staff.

However, it is the ubiquitous QR matrix barcode that replaces humans, not robots.

Many restaurants have begun experimenting with order management systems such as QR codes and toasts. This allows eaters to order food from the phone to the table rather than from a human server. Grocery stores are increasing their investment in self-checkout kiosks to replace human cashiers, and more convenience stores, including Circle K, are experimenting with computer vision technology developed by Amazon Go and checked by customers. We make it possible to purchase without facing the outline at all.

This change means that some of the 1.7 million leisure and hospitality jobs and 270,000 retail jobs lost to the US economy since the February 2020 highs are unlikely to return. increase.

“In these jobs, there was always the risk of automation, but no push,” said Casey Warman, a professor at Dalhousie University who specializes in labor economics. “Covid has tweaked those jobs.”

Many employers, including Alamano, say they are still anxious to hire human workers, but a month-long shortage of workers makes it difficult to find them. Economists say some workers are at home due to the risk of getting infected with the delta coronavirus mutant, increased unemployment benefits and school closures.

A former Foamy Wader employee decided to stay home full-time to educate his son. Allamano’s open role ads created only one application. The new technology will help fill the gap, Alamano said.

Labor economists say that workplaces regularly leap automation during a recession because narrower margins make them more productive with fewer resources. Repetitive work is the most vulnerable.

According to Warman’s research, women without a college degree are most likely to lose their jobs. Thousands of administrative assistants, telemarketers, and payroll personnel were replaced by computers during the 2007 financial crisis, according to a Federal Reserve Board treatise.

Mark Muro, a senior fellow who studies technology at the Brookings Institution, said:

Employers have focused on using automation to speed up the operation of distribution centers and supply chains in the years following the recession. However, Mr. Muro said the Covid crisis helped adapt automated customer service tools as both consumers and business owners sought to reduce face-to-face interactions as much as possible.

“This was all a big product placement. [advertisement] For technical solutions, “Muro said.

Alex Shahrestani, a partner in a technology law firm in Austin, Texas, offers internships or paralegals to help schedule and onboard new clients when a pandemic moves their business to a remote location. I was considering hiring.

“While everyone was trying to understand Zoom Call, I thought people would be more forgiving if we were trying something new,” Shahrestani said. “We were already in that direction, but the pandemic gave us the opportunity to try more.”

The company uses a program built in-house to allow clients to schedule meetings with lawyers and automatically respond to emails containing frequently asked questions such as pricing.

Shahrestani is currently interested in hiring computer programmers to extend and maintain the system.

According to Warman, automation, such as that used by Shahrestani’s company, often creates advanced programming jobs, but in the long run reduces the demand for workers without college degrees.

Rob Carpenter, founder of Vallyant AI, a startup that creates voice recognition systems that can take orders with fast-food drive-throughs, said many automation tools only have the ability to offload human workers. He said most quick service restaurants didn’t have workers dedicated to taking drive-through orders, and many of the 30 restaurants using Valiant’s system would hire more human workers. I said that.

“For those who can continue to work, it may improve their work,” Warman said. “But others can be fired. There are winners and losers here. Automation has always brought out winners and losers.”

Reissued by the Financial Times

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