Cashier-Free Amazon Go Draws Shoppers – and Some Questions

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Seattle, WA — The new Amazon Go store — a cashier-free, cash-free, completely automated grocery store — had shoppers standing on line outside waiting to get in. But some are questioning the impact the “high-tech 7-11” will have on employees and consumers. Is this the format of the future?

Upon entering, shoppers see a series of turnstile-looking gates, where you scan your smartphone’s Amazon Go app freeing you to shop for everything from chips to wine to one of the store’s biggest draws — ready-to-eat meals. The app and hundreds of cameras and sensors keep track of what you pick up and put back on shelves. Shoppers are charged for the final items when leaving through the sensing gates.

But how much information are shoppers really giving up when they go there? Is the store  collecting more than just what shoppers are putting into their shopping bags? According to the Washington Post, John Verdi, the vice president of policy at the Future of Privacy Forum, a think tank that counts Amazon among its corporate donors, said the data collected by Amazon’s store is no more than what most people give away at other supermarkets by using their loyalty and credit cards.

“Are consumers comfortable with that level of data collection and use? I suspect many are,” he said.

In addition, however, Amazon will also be able to collect data on which products were passed over, examined then put back on the shelf, along with other merchandising intelligence and it can link that to regular online shopping activity.

What about jobs? According to federal data, about 3.5 million Americans work as cashiers nationwide. While employees are needed to cook and assist shoppers at Amazon Go, the number of employees needed for a large-scale rollout of the store would be significantly less than for regular supermarkets.

And how long will the technology be viable before there are glitches?  Says ZD Net, for now, the Amazon Go app enables you to ask for a refund without returns and no questions asked. That approach is fine for a beta, but should Amazon Go scale it could be a bigger hit on margins.

Says Jay Jacobowitz, President and Founder of Retail Insights: “My sense is this technology will not quickly roll out at scale. While Amazon may eventually develop a reliable AI automated shopping experience, it by definition will not serve all shopper needs. Specifically, the AI enabled store may serve the need for convenience and value, but will not take care of the need for discovery and experience, which includes discovering new products and, through one-on-one human interaction, new uses for products.

In sum, the AI enabled store will be the antithesis of the warm and fuzzy, socially rich, delightful and inspiring shopping experience provided by the best retailers. It will be like the luncheon automat of the 1950s and ‘60s: Efficient, but soulless.”

Amazon has not shared any rollout plans, or whether it intends to introduce the technology into Amazon-owned Whole Foods Market locations or to license the technology to other retailers.

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