Amazon opens its first cashier-less convenience store in Seattle Monday, in a move potentially revolutionary for tech, automation and business, though possibly devastating for workers.
At the new Amazon Go store, customers can bypass checkout lines, thanks to hundreds of tiny cameras and a computer algorithm that keeps track of every item shoppers grab. The only requirement is to have an Amazon account and the Amazon Go app, which operates via your Amazon login. As you shop, each item you grab is added to your Amazon cart and an Amazon receipt gets sent to your phone once you leave the store.
The store had already been beta tested by Amazon employees, who've been using it without any reported incidents for months.
For those wondering how savvy the system is, a New York Times reporter did try shoplifting for the sake of journalism and was unsuccessful. "With permission from Amazon, I tried to trick the store’s camera system by wrapping a shopping bag around a $4.35 four-pack of vanilla soda while it was still on a shelf, tucking it under my arm and walking out of the store. Amazon charged me for it," Times reporter Nick Wingfield wrote. He also noted that the entrance is like entering a subway station, as gates guard the front door and only those with the app are allowed passage.
Now, the Amazon Go store is less like a full, robust supermarket or grocery store than it is a haute convenience store, in terms of what products are available (with an emphasis on convenience, obviously). That's fine for the moment. But what, other than a faster shopping experience, is at stake here?
The New York Times estimates that in 2016, there were approximately 3.5 million cashiers, jobs undeniably at risk if the systems Amazon Go represents succeed and spread. It should be noted that Amazon Go isn't completely employee-free. There are real people who restock shelves, assist with technical problems, help customers locate items and checks I.D.'s in the wine and beer section. Still, it's unclear whether those jobs are equal in pay and number to the millions of cashier jobs the retail industry currently supports.
At this time, Amazon hasn't yet announced whether this Seattle store will be a stand-alone project or if the company plans to expand this model to new Amazon Go stores around the country, or even with its recent acquisition, Whole Foods.