By Karin Zalcberg
The first Amazon Go store has opened and it's all over the headlines. It's a cashier free, cash free, digitally designed store, born in Amazon's virtual world and brought to the real world.
In its flagship store in Seattle, early visitors have already claimed that they felt like they were shoplifting but don’t worry about that, shoplifters, the real type, aren't being prosecuted, because apparently as far as Amazon is concerned "it's only a yoghurt, you'll pay next time."
It's all a little odd, camera controlled and techie, but without a closer look, it just seems like a shop with below par, yet intentionally bad security. We have to ask, what is really going on at Amazon Go and could this be the first fully digitalized shop of the future?
To correct that, let's not say "fully" digitalized, as Amazon is still promising non-robots jobs as shelf-stackers and of course ID checkers in the Alcohol department, although it feels that it won't be long before automated devices will get up to speed on these issues also.
How it Goes
The Amazon Go store, apart from seeming to be a tad elitist (no food stamps accepted here, or cash for that matter) is a store of Amazon grocery products functioning without cashiers, cash or checkouts.
Buyers enter the store with their downloaded QR code, Android or iPhone, almost like logging in at Amazon.com (which is where you will need to get the QR code). With this login, Amazon gets to know who is in store, or on site.
Then as you browse and choose your items, cameras and sensors will determine which items have been taken. Then, you just walk out.
That's right, no need to pay, because Amazon automatically charges you for the items after you leave the store, and you get sent an electronic receipt for your purchases.
So, after you can close your jaw again, I want to redirect you to a couple of pressing questions regarding this new system. The first is, regarding human error (and that shelf stacker) and the second is, about the shopping experience itself.
Ever been in a store and felt like a snack (Snack A), picked it up and then saw a DIFFERENT better snack (Snack B)? Yes? We are a fickle lot, us humans and we do like to change our minds as often as we like to fill our stomachs. So, in this eventuality, you may, if you are one of those goodie two shoes, go back to the shelf of Snack A and put it back in its place. More than likely, you may also just shove Snack A where Snack B had been before you grabbed it. Either way, how does Amazon know that you don't still have the original snack?
Then there are those, like the CNBC yoghurt stealers who are shoplifting. Amazon has admitted that it has no way detecting items removed but unpaid for.
Working on the premise that you have to check in, purchase something, to at least not arouse suspicion. There is serious disruption you could cause, with incorrect check purchases and general store disorganization.
The shelf stacker with the human edge, the one that may bring order to the chaos in this scenario, begins to feel more and more crucial.
The Shopping Experience
Apart from the computerized, 'scan-buy-esque' retail system, heavily supported by artificial intelligence, let's discuss the shopping experience itself.
You enter, you swipe your card, you choose your goods you walk out. Isn't this simply standard shopping in reverse? Obviously without the problem of cold cash and less human interaction, something we seem to enjoy anyway.
With that in mind, why aren't Amazon concerned about how much credit their customers have? If you have fifty cents in your Amazon account and the cheapest in store item is $0.65 will the turnstile not move for you?
Furthermore, let's think about security on those Amazon accounts. Let's say cyber criminals gain access to thousands of accounts and download all those QR codes, this is just another way Amazon could be leaving us exposed to cyber-crime, even if you only get charged for bananas through your account.
What about people who don't own cell phones? ..Ok, just kidding.
However, one could imagine a scenario where QR codes are resold (like sporting tickets) and this would be another area where law enforcement may have to crack down on people's phone downloads, with a little more privacy invasion creeping into our increasingly non-private lives.
It's definitely exciting and Amazon is bold for making the move. Just imagine a Black Friday with no check-out line – this is the stuff dreams are made of yet we are all a little confused about if we, joe public, are going to prefer shopping in reverse. Only time will tell.