Why Duncan Garner’s Kmart checkout metaphor is actually delightfully perfect


Let’s not expect much from these people.

Dear old Duncs is getting mutilated on social media and especially Twitter for his latest column where he asks if his perspective of a K-Mart checkout is the way we want NZ to be in 20 years.

I’m no fan of Garner, I think his morning TV show has all the intellectual nutrition of a mince pie and can of coke for breakfast and I almost never read anything he writes, but his latest column deserves some special attention because in a way his Kmart checkout metaphor is actually delightfully perfect and manages to answer his question of where NZ is going to be in 20 years in a way he probably didn’t appreciate when writing it.

Here is our great anthropologist at work as he wanders into the great snake of the Kmart checkout line…

As I started walking towards the self-pay counter I saw a massive human snake crawling its way around the self-service island near the middle of the store. And it snaked and snaked and snaked. The snake was massive.

I wondered what the attraction was? It wasn’t immediately obvious. Then it was. The self-service counter couldn’t cope.

It couldn’t cope with the pressures of the people. The dozens of stressed faces making up the human snake were frustrated too.

I looked around, it could have been anywhere in South East Asia.

I wasn’t shocked – we have reported this for three years – we have targeted immigrants, opened the gates and let in record numbers. This year’s net gain of migrants was 72,000.

Indians, Pakistanis, Sri Lankans, Syrians, and many others. I saw the changing face of New Zealand at the crossroads, otherwise known as Kmart’s self-service counter.

…now to be fair to Duncs, he’s trying to articulate the frustration many Aucklander’s feel at the cramped infrastructure groaning under the weight of a surge in immigration numbers and the total inability of Government to show any leadership by properly funding the migration growth which they are promoting. Unfortunately instead of being able to communicate that frustration, Dunc’s manages to sound like a privileged white bloke forced to stand in line with brown people while having the audacity to racistly bitch about it.

Rather than complaining about the racial make up of the people standing in line, the real story is why Kmart has been able to hollow out their staff for self-check outs. The economic system that exploits everyone shopping there is the issue, not the ethnicity of those forced to wait in line.

So what is this column really about?

TDB Recommends NewzEngine.com

A multinational retailer gutting worker rights to the same level of the sweat shop made products they import is crowded by poor people and migrants trying to stretch their dollar while a middle class white bloke happy to exploit the low prices brought about by globalisation hisses about immigrants because he has to wait in line with them.

To be honest, that kinda does sum up NZ almost perfectly doesn’t it?


  1. favourite tweet-pic-response is from an asian woman – standing in line @ kmart – holding a pair of underpants – and saying she is there to buy underpants and to pissoff the duncan garners of the world..

    very good..!

    • Was that the same pic of the sniggering girl with the word “Jackass” printed on the waistband of the boxers she’s holding?

  2. Should any management stray across this blog – just wanted to let know I go out of my way NOT to shop at K mart since the installment of the self serve checkouts. They are an absolute nightmare – various nationalities in que or not!

    • KMart gives low prices, but horribly low reward to those who work there.
      Suspect cheap-labour stuff from guess where.. I do not want this kind of company in my country. Bugger globilisation.

    • Yes – me too. The last time I went I just waited at the service desk until someone served us – they ignored us for a while then where really vocally rude when they did serve us ( I loudly told my daughter before they did that I was going to dump what we were buying on the counter if we weren’t served). Ironically good checkout staff are quicker than self check anyway.

    • I wonder if all the people romanticizing checkout jobs have every worked in one? I know a number of people who have, including my brother, who ended up getting OOS from swiping products from right to left, all day, every day. These are monotonous, robotic jobs that no human should be forced to do. Self-checkouts are both technological and social progress, and every time I use them, I celebrate the fact that a worker didn’t have to add another swipe to their OOS so I can pay for my stuff.

      The real issue here is what happens to checkout workers when self-checkouts are installed, and why. For a corporation – a sociopathic hive mind that cares only about short-term financial self-interest – this is an opportunity to reduce its spend on wages, so it probably reduces staff. If the same store was run by a worker-owned cooperative, the paid hours that would have been spent staffing the checkout would simply moved into another part of the business, with no reduction in staff or wages.

      The real problem here is not technological progress. It’s the domination of the economy by business structures set up to serve capitalists, not people or our environment. People who whinge about self-checkouts, but continue to buy stuff from corporations when there are alternatives, are totally missing the point.

  3. Meh! Cognitive Dissonance at work again Martyn.

    You can’t complain of a low wage economy and in the same breath complain about productivity boosting investment like self serve kiosks. Without higher productivity NZ won’t be able to generate higher incomes; it’s that simple.

    • With all due respect, this global cancer system now destroys more means of life than it produces, so”productivity” is just producing for this cancer system.

      Left thinkers may no more want to see this scientific reality than the corporate press, nexus web their livelihood depends on the delusion.

      • Card only self check out are always free. Even during busy school holidays. When it’s busy I often see peopl not relies it’s card only. Only the relies when they pay, that there’s no coin slot. Some times you can’t teach old dogs new tricks.

    • How can you have “higher productivity”, Awanderer if we have to waste hours in long queues? That does not compute. And what does “higher productivity” mean when self-checkout robots take the jobs of human operators, throwing workers onto the unemployment scrapheap? How can we have “higher incomes” if we’re unemployed because a machine got our jobs??

      Your rhetoric may’ve been fine last century, but in 2017 it makes no sense at all. In fact, it’s bloody well contradictory and confusing.

    • @Awanderer- Productivity boosting investment- if only! Where do the profits go from increased productivity? Not back into the business, that’s for sure! I don’t know what planet you’ve been on these past 20 years-delusions at work again!

    • You’re confusing “productivity” with “profit.” They are not the same thing. Look in a dictionary at the root of the noun “productivity.” It stems from “produce” which means to create. Automated checkouts may increase profits, but they do not increase productivity. You might argue that I’m quibbling over semantics, but I’ll stand by that. Words have meanings. Use them properly. The neoliberal experiment has all but destroyed productivity, at the same time as it has misappropriated the definition of the word. Your use of the word creates an argument built on a pillar of sand. You marvel at the pillar you’ve created, but ignore the fact that it will ultimately crumble in a heartbeat. It’s time for a new argument.

  4. You do realise that once Amazon lets rip, queues at kmart self-checkout will seem like quaint old village gatherings.

  5. And the Great thing is that now those self check robots will be able to use their wages to shop at Kmart and……um

    And the Great thing is that now Kmart upper management will be able to pay those staff more ..opps, no they’re robots… start again

    And the Great thing is NOW Kmart upper management will be able to pay THEMSELVES more, and they can spent THAT money at Kmart and….
    Of any company, talk about shooting yourself in the foot, Kmart.

  6. I buy my undies online. Retailers who want my business email me when they are having price reductions. Post or pickup it’s so much easier.Pickup on a weekday when there is low traffic flow . Piece of piss.Or pay the freight. I have shopped this way for 30 years. Used to order by phone and fax in the old days. Living rurally teaches you how to avoid driving anywhere unnecessarily.

  7. The grief given to Winston by Garner recently, will have Winston quietly smiling like a Cheshire cat over Garners immigration rant.

  8. Slave labour force and those that are there working, are obviously expected to work their butts off, due to staff shortages, which I find repugnant. No thanks, I’ll give that sort of thing a miss. I don’t need to patronise any business which disrespects its staff to the extent of abusing their labour!

  9. Automation is here. Embrace the change. Hopefully this ends slave labor and gives humanity time to rethink their values.

  10. Oh, the checkout cannot cope? Bring a sledge hammer and smash the damned robot, thanks!

    I recommend doing the same with most smart phones, people may get a culture show, and realise, there are other natural persons around them, made from flesh and blood, like themselves, and learn to talk and communicate with them.

    Hey, revolution!?

    • The problem with handheld computers is not that they exist. There’s a million legitimate uses for them, such as finding things while traveling, and checking facts during a discussion. The problem is that they are designed to make you use them more, so your attention can be hijacked to consume ads and make revenue for the company that makes the software you’re using. Human-centred design that aims to help people accomplish their goals with the least possible screen time is a better solution than a device smashing “revolution”:

  11. I enjoyed reading Duncan Garner’s thoughts, hopefully he doesn’t revert to this old ways. But why … why is he even shopping there – Kmarts products are produced using the slaviest slaves of all.

    In fact Kmart isn’t happy with their margins and is moving production to ensure products are produced even cheaper. Of course this results in lower prices and quality.

    If Kmart itself is New Zealand in Garner’s empirical metaphor, it’s a shame Duncan didn’t point out Kmart is slowly going bankrupt.

    Confession: I have been known to buy Kmart’s knockoff ‘body butter’ sets as Xmas presents … oh and socks, so I am feeling Duncan on this one.

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