By Jarod Todeschi
On Jan. 22nd, tech giant Amazon opened their first grocery store in Seattle. The store, named Amazon Go, presents a new concept for traditional brick and mortar consumerism, eliminating the process of checking-out entirely. Once shoppers are inside, cameras and sensors track their every move. By scanning ones cell phone upon entrance, the technology catalogues each customer. Everything that is taken off of the shelves is charged to the respective Amazon account connected to the cell phone, no human interaction necessary.
As the store approaches its second week open, it has been the subject of viral online videos and local news segments around the country, showing nationwide interest in the Seattle shop. The fascination with deceiving the systems and outsmarting the computers has been the subject of many. One of whom was a man that attempted to steal a box of tampons, though it was actually a box of pads, from the flagship shop in a 13 minute long youtube video. He was unsuccessful.
CNN Tech writes, “there’s the brief sensation of feeling like you got away with something, but then Amazon sends a push notification about your receipt.”
A team of CNBC journalists accidentally stole a yogurt from the store, a mistake they immediately reported. Affirming the company’s confidence in the store’s tracking systems, Amazon Go VP Gianna Puerini responded that the chance for this kind of error is so rare they “didn’t even bother building in a feature for customers to tell us it happened.”
Amazon’s nonchalance about theft may hint at the companies enormous revenue, one which is not impacted by petty grocery theft.
The store has drawn criticism for not accepting food stamps. A petition on Care2 pointed out that Amazon should accept food stamps at its Go store if only so underpaid employees of Amazon can shop there too, further reading, “while Bezos’ bank account continues to grow, many of the people who actually work for the company struggle to make ends meet,” calling out Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, currently on track to become the world’s first trillionaire.
A study by Policy Matters Ohio found that 10 percent of the state’s Amazon employees were on food stamps themselves. There have been reports of volatile Amazon work environments in the past in their corporate and warehouse settings, though concern remains for the cashierless concept that the Amazon Go store is modeling.
Upon opening, the broader implications of the store drew concerning reactions from the public. Predominantly, people questioned what this could mean for the future of America’s 2.3 million citizens who make livings as retail cashiers. Though future scenarios can only be hypothetical, economic research from Boston University concluded that “automation had the potential to create greater wealth while also increasing economic inequality,” according to The New Yorker.
The grocery shop shows Amazon delving into the supermarket business after purchasing the Whole Foods company last summer for 13.7 billion dollars. Amazon aims to lower the Whole Foods prices over time, provide special deals and discounts for Amazon Prime subscribers and increase the amount of employees they have on the payroll.
If Seattle’s Amazon Go is any indication of what the company has in mind for the future of Whole Foods, the concern of human employment is still unanswered. In the same way that the ATM did not hinder the amount of people employed by banks, it is widely thought that easing human workers out of retail would see those people entering different kinds of jobs. One employee in a New Jersey Amazon warehouse, whose job initially consisted of sorting and lifting bins, now supervises and troubleshoots a team of robots who do that job for her.
The company largely remains secretive about what goes on in their offices and quiet about the controversies that arise in their name. Since the 2017 holiday season, their stocks have surged from dominant online sales, as consumers continue to adopt Prime memberships and Echo artificial intelligence into their homes. While it is still unknown what continued technological integration will mean for human life in the future, Amazon seems interested in being among the first to figure it out.