It’s not often someone makes news for something they didn’t do. But a small grocery chain most people have never heard of, has made a splash with a simple announcement about installing self-checkout machines in its stores –

It’s never going to happen, the retailer says.

That’s the word from Sparkle Markets, a locally-owned chain of 18 stores in Ohio, West Virginia and Pennsylvania. There are certainly other grocery chains without self-checkouts, but Sparkle has earned attention from self-checkout opponents nationwide, just by publicly declaring its opposition to the technology.

“Many big grocery brands have decided to phase out their cashiers and replace them with self-checkout machines,” Vincent Furrie, Jr., who owns seven of the chain’s 18 stores, wrote in a Facebook post last week. “They believe limiting human interaction is the future of retail shopping. While stores test this theory, we at Sparkle will not be turning to self-checkout.”

Furrie went on to say that “employing our neighbors not only benefits the company, but it also benefits our communities. In times like this, jobs are more important than ever. We value the person at the register – we hope you do as well. Helping one another just cannot be replaced.”

Self-checkouts are a hot-button issue among shoppers. And Furrie’s statement certainly pushed Sparkle shoppers’ buttons – in a good way.


“I refuse to use self checkout and applaud you on your stance to put community first!!” one shopper responded. “Thank you so much for not following this trend! As a frequent Sparkle shopper I love the cashiers,” another wrote. “Thank you for standing your ground & doing this, while so many others are resorting to eliminating jobs & promoting an anti social environment. For those reasons, I refuse to use self checkout. And, now I know where I can shop that I won’t be forced to,” a third shopper commented.

Local news outlets in the region quickly picked up on the story. “Why would you want to shop at a store where you have to do all the work? Furrie asked Youngstown, Ohio’s WKBN-TV. “Why would you want to do that to your employees?” And then the story went national, resonating with shoppers who dislike self-checkouts as much as Furrie does.

To shoppers who are the do-it-yourself type and actually prefer scanning their own groceries as opposed to waiting in long lines at the few staffed lanes that are actually open, some of their fellow shoppers’ antagonism toward self-checkouts has become something of a tired cliché. The machines may have been naggy and clunky decades ago, but self-checkout technology and customer acceptance has improved to the point that even other grocers who once took a principled anti-self-checkout stand, eventually gave in and reversed course.

Several recent surveys have shown that many shoppers don’t mind, or actually prefer, self-checkouts. Late last year, for one, a Catalina survey found an even split – 49% of shoppers said they prefer “the personal attention offered in the manned-only lanes,” while 51% sometimes or always opt for self-checkout, leading Catalina to conclude that shoppers like having the choice.

But some retailers aren’t giving customers that choice. Kroger, Walmart and Albertsons are among those that have tried offering self-checkout-only stores with no staffed cashier lanes at all.

And that’s contributed to something of a backlash, among self-checkout opponents who worry that “self-checkout only” is the future. “Nothing beats a good cashier and having groceries packed with care,” a commenter on Sparkle’s Facebook page wrote. “Sometimes staying the same is how to be different!” another added.

So if you’ve never heard of Sparkle Markets before, you have now. Nothing like a little free publicity. It’s worth noting that digital-only grocery discounts have become something of a hot-button issue lately as well. And Sparkle doesn’t have a digital coupon program. So if you see a statement someday declaring Sparkle’s commitment to paper coupons – well, gaining national attention and goodwill by publicly bucking a technological trend has already worked once.

Image source: Sparkle Markets/Facebook

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