Amazon has just announced its new self-checkout convenience store and cafeteria concept, which it calls Amazon Go. There’s a YouTube video, which I’m embedding below (found via BoingBoing); also, an intrepid Ars Technica reporter has written of his attempt to sneak into the Seattle prototype store, which is currently open only to Amazon employees.
The store seems to use effectively the same checkout-less self-checkout system Amazon has discussed in the past for potential implementation in its Amazon Books bookstores—it watches to see what you put in your cart or shopping bag, and then bills you and emails you a receipt once you step through the door to leave. The concept store seems to be half a convenience store and half an automat cafeteria—it offers basic food items for sale, as well as ready-to-eat meals made by an on-site cooking staff. In March, we covered a similar system already in use in Sweden.
On The Digital Reader, Nate Hoffelder is skeptical that this system will revolutionize grocery shopping anytime soon. He doubts all that many ordinary shoppers could be moved to install the necessary shopping app on their phones, if they even have smartphones. He thinks it could be most useful in a college cafeteria setting, as younger, tech-savvy college students might be more willing to install the app, or else they could be issued RFID-chipped ID cards for use there. But I think Nate may be thinking too small.
Leaving aside the fact that Amazon could almost certainly implement the system in its bookstores easily enough—they already rely on Amazon accounts for pricing and billing, after all—consider that just last month, Washington voted to bump its minimum wage to $13.50 by 2020. Amazon’s home city of Seattle already bumped its own minimum wage to $11 last year.
Two states to the south, California, America’s most populous state, is going to bump its minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2022 (with several cities jumping to $15 per hour now). And just look what’s happening. McDonald’s is going to roll out a self-service ordering kiosk nationwide, replacing at least some of its low-paid cashiers with touchscreens that don’t have to be paid at all. A fully-automated restaurant chain called Eatsa now has five locations open in $15-minimum-wage areas. Other stores, restaurants, bookstores, etc. are shutting down due to this sudden jump in labor costs.
And as California goes, so goes the rest of the nation, sooner or later. Labor costs are going to jump dramatically as other places raise their minimum wage, and businesses that want to stay in business are going to look toward increasing the amount of automation in their stores. We’ve already got grocery and department stores with self-checkout terminals that many shoppers refuse to use because they’re just too confusing—but here comes Amazon with a self-checkout system that doesn’t even need terminals. You load up your purchases and just walk right on out the door.
Yes, this concept might require a more tech-savvy brand of shopper, but a lot more people do have smartphones these days, and surely many of them could be moved to install the requisite app—especially if there were employees on-site tasked with helping them set it up. And if college students could be given RFID-chipped ID cards for use in a cafeteria, why couldn’t those without compatible phones be given RFID-chipped “loyalty” cards tied to their Amazon (or other store chain) account? Dozens of store chains already use some sort of loyalty card program, after all, so it’s not as if the idea of carrying such a card is new or unexpected.
In any event, it will be interesting to see where this concept “goes” from here. Personally, I’m hoping they open such a store here in Indianapolis, just so I could play Pokémon Go via my Karma Go at an Amazon Go.
Some people might have trouble using it, sure, but I think many people will *prefer* to use it, and that will be big. ATMs were once considered to be confusing and “difficult”. Nowadays I don’t think you would do business with a bank that didn’t offer ATM access.
The connection between wage rates and automation is most interesting. Faced with rising labor costs, corporations will naturally endeavor to offshore or automate those jobs. The Trump administration may be able to mitigate some of the offshoring of jobs (the Carrier case does not inspire) but what can they do about automation?
I can see a lot of buyers remorse coming as those working class Trump voters come to realize that we cannot return to the happy days when high paying factory jobs were plentiful.
The painful truth is that American workers have only one viable path to regaining or exceeding their former standard of living. Acquiring new and upgraded skills, something that open source eTextbooks could help with, is the only way. Competing with robots and automated digital processes in what they do best is pure folly.
I generally agree with your here (about education.) But I find myself wondering if workers will retrain for new skills only to see those skills made obsolete. And so wash, rinse, repeat.
Still, it does seem obvious that education can be massively streamlined via technology. That’s hopeful.
I spent part of yesterday driving around and looking at workers and contemplating whether their jobs (white or blue collar) could be automated. And then I see this article. It’s obvious the future is coming fast and furiously. Great read!
Do you notice the underlying behavior pattern coming out of Silicon Valley and its Amazon satellite in Seattle? It’s not just that these high-tech billionaries want to offshore jobs to the country with the lowest wages. It is that they dislike any good-paying job for those they number among the “deplorables”—particularly jobs for burly men. Their vision is of a world that’ll make the medieval division between lords and serfs seem egalitarian. The few are to run the show. The rest are expected to do as they’re told.
They’re too stupid to realize that they’re becoming trapped in a Catch 22. It’s only because people have good-paying jobs that they can afford iPhones, Kindles, and all these other high-tech toys.
For this clique, it is fine for candidates to claim they care for working people much like Hillary did with her “Stronger Together” campaign. All those in the inner circles of both coasts knew her words need not be taken seriously, that she’d do the bidding of the one percent who filled her campaign with enough money to outspend the Trump campaign over two to one.
That is also why Trump infuriates them. He is—or ought to be—one of them, which makes him the worst of all creatures, a class traitor, hence their bizarre, irrational fury.
I might add that bringing and retaining manufacturing in this country isn’t hard. Outrage at Asian imports resulted in a host of good-paying auto factories coming to this country. I live within an hour’s drive of two of them. The same can be true in a host of other areas. The barriers to that are totally on the left and its special interest groups. All can be fixed.
1. Excessive regulation. Want to know the reason for Rust Belt poverty? Look no further than the belt of counties around DC. They constitued 8 of the 10 wealthiest counties in the country. And what is their primary product? Strangling regulations.
2. Inexpensive power. Germany remains an industrial powerhouse despite high labor costs. But it has weaknesses. Going gah-gah for green means that it’s energy costs, vital in production are three times those in the U.S. All that natural gas coming from shale fields could not only power industry in our Rust Belt, but provide the feed stock for many products. All it takes are politicians with the guts to tell greens to live their hysterias and leave the rest of us alone.
3. Warped laws that favor a well-connected few. When you and I work, we get paid as with provide value to others. No huge sums up front. Not so for those in financial services. They get paid upfront, even when they do not deliver real value. Their fees don’t depend on whether a loan gets paid off, only when it is made. That’s the dark secret behind the subprime scandal. Banks were forced by the feds to make home loans to people who were unlikely to be able to repay them. Those arranging the loans at all levels immediately pocketed the money from those loans, assuming no risks. The banks, which knew how dubious those loans were, thought, “What the heck, if we have to foreclose, these homes will be worth for more than their remaining balance. We will come out ahead.”
Then the bubble of rising house prices burst. When homeowner couldn’t pay and a bank foreclosed, the banks were left with a debt greater than what that home was worth. The result was a disaster whose costs were not imposed on those who’d created it—those who arranged those dubious loans. Those laws need changing and both Bill and Hillary were pocketing huge speaking fees to make sure they didn’t. Will Trump change that? I don’t know. But he knows where are the bodies are. If he wanted to put an end to that scam, he knows how like no one else in politics.
One final remark. When steam looms put weavers out of work almost exactly two centuries ago, the Luddite rebellion came to naught. Poor, unarmed, and unable to travel far, they were easily overpowered by the British Army.
That may not be true this time around. Those put out of work in the near future will have a host of resources at their command—guns, trucks, all kinds of organizing skills. Calling out the Army or National Guard will do no good. They are the Army and National Guard.
We live in interesting times, but they’re also likely to become extremely difficult times rendered all the worst by an elite that’s displaying the same monumental stupidity the French nobility displayed on the eve of the French Revolution. Their sneers directed at peasants are much like those Obama directed at “bitter clingers” and Hillary at “deplorables.”
–Michael W. Perry, author and editor
I read through that entire comment twice, and I honestly can’t figure out whether you support or oppose a higher minimum wage.
@Michael W. Perry That’s a nice Alt-Right screed in that it encapsulates much of the mythology that folks who won’t cope cling to so desperately. It’s everybody else’s fault.
Trump will be satisfied to be the highly visible and audible face of whatever his new swamp mates put forward. However, it will be interesting to see how he summons a do-over. Can a president file for political bankruptcy?