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.