Self-checkout machines want you to tip them for all that they do.
Businesses are starting to introduce new options for tipping at self-checkout machines, putting even more pressure on customers amid rising inflation costs.
Despite having zero interaction with employees during transactions, self-checkout machines at places such as coffee shops, bakeries, airports and sports stadiums are giving customers the option to leave the typical 20% tip, according to a report from the Wall Street Journal.
Business owners believe that the prompt for a tip can boost staff pay and increase gratuities — but customers are questioning where and to whom the extra cash is going, considering self-checkout is done, well, by yourself.
“They’re cutting labor costs by doing self-checkout. So what’s the point of asking for a tip? And where is it going?” Ishita Jamar, a senior at American University in Washington, DC, who has noticed more self-serve tip cues, told WSJ.
But tipping researchers claim this is a way for companies to put the responsibility of paying employees on the customer rather than increasing employee salaries themselves.
William Michael Lynn, a professor of consumer behavior and tip culture at Cornell University’s Nolan School of Hotel Administration, told the outlet that businesses are “taking advantage of an opportunity.”
The self-checkout gratuity option is an example of “tip creep” — a phenomenon that prompts customers to leave higher tips in transactional situations.
Self-tipping is viewed by many customers as a way to guilt-trip the person into tipping on something when they typically wouldn’t.
“Just the prompt, in general, is a bit of emotional blackmail,” Garrett Bemiller, 26, who works in public relations in Manhattan, told WSJ after he was asked to add a 10% to 20% tip on his $6 water bottle at an airport self-checkout machine.
Many companies told the Journal that these tipping prompts are completely optional, and the extra gratuity is split between all employees.
However, experts say that tips at a self-checkout machine might never even get to an actual employee since protections to tipped workers in the federal Fair Labor Standards Act don’t extend to machines, according to WSJ.
Lehigh University associate professor Holona Ochs said self-checkout tipping “exploits the high adherence to tipping norms as a way to generate more revenue for the company.”
The influx of tipping options has sparked lots of debate with customers online, especially for places like Starbucks.
The option to tip by credit card at Starbucks was introduced in September 2022 and received mixed reviews from both customers and employees — the latter of whom admitted they feel embarrassed to ask for a tip on what is, essentially, fast food.
Research has shown that digital tipping options usually result in customers leaving a tip from 18% to 30% and higher, though many say they refuse to tip for fast food and self-serve experiences.