We told you about the Amazon supermarket of the future some time back… And waited and waited and waited. Now, it’s finally open, and folks who’ve test-shopped it say it may be the shape of shops to come. Too bad for all the folks who’ll lose their much-needed, low-level jobs as a result…
My main bugaboos…
We posted about the Amazon ‘supermarket of the future’ back in late 2016, when the online retailing giant announced it was testing the tech. Now, its first actual store is open to the public in Seattle. And my doubts and fears about the scheme have only multiplied in the meantime.
What if the system makes a mistake, say charging a shopper for an item she only looked at then put back on the shelf? Or some human responsible for entering prices in the Big Master Omnipotent Computer behind it all makes a mistake and overcharges a shopper for an item? How do you get a system with no humans in the loop to admit a mistake, let alone correct it? Time will tell. The mistake scenario will happen, probably sooner than anyone (except me) would have predicted. Do we fix it, junk the whole automated store idea or just shrug our collective shoulders and welcome in ‘The Age of the Computer that Cannot be Challenged or Questioned. Just live With It’
What about those times when your fave brand of something is mysteriously absent from the shelves? Who can you ask about that? They say there will still be a few humans somewhere in the back of the store, tech types just in case the machines break down. But what would they know about inventory and such? Will there actually be any significant customer service available? Could you inquire via your phone? Or is your phone just there, in the store’s scenario, to register purchases and charge them automatically to your Amazon account? The AmazonGO cash-out app will be running at all times when you are in the store. Will your phone be allowed to multi-task in that situation?
‘Just Walk Out’
That’s the pop-name Amazon has given its smart-store technology. And that’s supposed to be all you have to do. Just grab and go. And trust AmazonGO. How far do you trust machines? How far are you willing to trust them? How much power are you willing to give them over your everyday life?
My dad, rest his simple, common-sense soul, always said, when asked about new technology, “More complicated, more parts to break down, more things to go wrong.”
The human factor tragedy…
Millions of jobs will be lost across the Western World when human shelf stockers, cashiers and other traditional store-floor functionaries become redundant under the ‘smart-store’ regime. Don’t kid yourselves; store owners will rush to get rid of as many human employees as they can as quickly as they can, to save every penny they can and channel the savings into the pockets of their shareholders. Cut prices for consumers to celebrate the savings? Never happen. At least, it never has before.
What happens to all those young folks who were breaking in to the career process with their supermarket jobs? All those middle-aged folks who were bringing in the second income that kept the family finances above water? What of the older folks who needed their part-time job to survive in retirement? All gone and quickly forgotten by the people who rule the world today: the food industry billionaires who decide how we will shop and the technology moguls who make the ‘latest advances’ in shopping tech possible.
Some hope for ‘dumb-tech’ shoppers?
This is why I think some small, human-based grocery operations will survive, and even thrive. Some folks will prefer them, even demand them, in the face of what they as consumers and humans consider ‘smart’ tech gone too far. I’ll be among them. The only problem I see is, the supermarket giants may decide to deny supplies to the little guys. They almost have the power to do that now, as control over the food supply chain continues to fall more and more under the control of the major retailers both through ownership and the power of the giants to dictate prices and what farmers should or must grow to meet the retailers’ demands.
Nevertheless, Amazon is crowing about its new smart supermarkets. And the retailing giant plans to open at least 2,000 such stores within the next ten years. Just because it can.
The moral to the story…
The AmazonGo smart store is nothing more or less than proof that, to every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. The well-off will gain convenience and technology while the poor become unemployed and poorer. And we all stand to lose product and brand variety as those who sell continue to gain influence over those who make.
The most optimistic thing I can say on this issue is, smart supermarket technology will have to work hard to sell itself to me.
~ Maggie J.