Is McDonald’s about to replace Cashiers with Kiosks?

Rumors that McDonald’s (NYSE: MCD) is about to get rid of all its’ cashiers are trending online. The rumors were prompted by an announcement that the fast-food icon is planning to roll out digital ordering kiosks out at 2,500 locations.

The kiosks are actually pretty simple gadgets that look like giant touchscreen tablets. Customers select the combo, burger or drink they want by touching on it. Then swipe their card or tap their phone to pay.

The idea is probably not to replace all cashiers; but to implement a partially-automated checkout process, like those seen at some Kroger (NYSE: KR) and Walmart Stores (NYSE: WMT). Those retail outlets give customers a choice of automated checkout or a human cashier.

Persons who have used those checkouts know that they often jam up because of glitches and require an override from a human cashier. At least major supermarket chain; Albertsons, got rid of automated checkout because it was too much hassle.

Is McDonald’s about to make Technological Unemployment Worse?

The potential change under the Golden Arches is likely to make the debates over technological unemployment and basic income heat up. It is also likely to increase popular anger at Wall Street.

Publicity about the possible automation caused McDonald’s share price to increase by $38 a share during the week of June 19 to 23, CNBC reported. Mickey D’s shares went from $142 to $180 in just a few days. They fell back to $154 on Monday June 26, 2017, but were still grossly overpriced.

McDonald’s has been under pressure to raise its wages for years and has been a principal target of the $15 an hour minimum wage movement in the United States. Like some retailers; and many restaurants, McDonald’s has also had a lot of trouble attracting employees because of low wages and poor working conditions.

McDonald’s Corporation Chief Executive Officer, Steve Easterbrook , demonstrates the ease of placing an order at the self-order kiosk, on Thursday, November 17, 2016, at a McDonald’s restaurant in New York, N.Y. (Stuart Ramson/AP Images for McDonald’s)

No Mass Layoffs Expected at McDonald’s but Populist Anger likely

Mass layoffs are unlikely under the Golden Arches because of high employee turnover there. Instead the company is likely to simply to transfer large numbers of employees from the front of the store to the kitchen. That’s likely to cause a lot of people to quit and McDonald’s to start looking into the possibility of automating the burger flipping process with robots.

Mr. Market’s approval of McDonald’s automation will undoubtedly fuel new attacks on Wall Streets and drive anti-technology sentiment. The campaign will really heat up if other fast-food chains and retailers install such kiosks in an attempt to get a share-price boost.

Expect to see calls to ban such retail automation mount; along with demands for basic income, rent vouchers and other wealth transfers to the poor. Retail automation is likely to be the focus of a populist political movement and controversy for decades to come.