Tech Tuesday: Amazon Go and the Future of the Retail Workplace

An extreme close-up of a keyboard, focused on the shift key which now says “add to cart” and has a blue icon of a shopping cart.

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Amazon KindleJeff Bezos, I don’t think, set out to become an innovator. I can still remember when Amazon first went online in the nineties, just selling books. That was amazing, yes, but innovative? That might have been a stretch. However, as the years have progressed, Bezos has become quite the online eCommerce innovator, practically rejuvenating the eBook market single-handedly with the Kindle and offering affordable services to self-publishers. You look at everything Amazon has offered in the past decade and it is truly astounding.

The latest of these offerings, though—Amazon Go—has a few people wondering about the future of an all too common job.

In case you missed the rollout of this new idea, Amazon created a small Seattle grocery store that allows customers to just take what they want off the shelves, put it in a bag of any description, and just walk out without waiting in line. The items you accrue are automatically checked out, billing you for it automatically. Amazon Go will eventually feature meal kits comprised of fresh ingredients that have been brought together right away. Think of it as a Blue Apron without the shipping part. You pop in, get your meal kit, and go home with this fantastic meal, all without having to wait in line or check out with a cashier.

But how does all this work? When you enter the store, you open up the Amazon Go app—so there will be an app you will have to access somehow—and a barcode scanner shows up on your smartphone. Simply put your phone on top of the kiosk as you walk in, login to the store with your particular account, and start shopping. As an extra layer of security and convenience, cameras and LIDARs identify you on login, and they recognize your face and that you are attached to that particular account. This high-tech recognition software and hardware then tracks you throughout the store.

Yes, it is a little creepy, but such is the price for convenience.

This recognition system ties into a “deep learning,” algorithm, so when you pull cupcakes off the shelf, Amazon Go recognizes the cupcakes in order to automatically add them to the bill. As you shop, you watch your bill building up right on your mobile device. Now let’s say you have picked up a steak, and decide you don’t want steak? Easy resolution—you just return it. Amazon Go knows you’ve returned it, takes it off the bill. Just like that.

Surveillance camera with people in backgroundNow if it sounds like you are being watched, well, yes, you are. The Amazon Go app and store dynamically tracks everything you do. Watching a video of it, I saw everyone walking round the store,  a split-screen showing what their bill looked like as they pulled stuff off and returned unwanted items. As soon as they were finished they just walked out. And they were automatically billed through their Amazon account. It was actually quite amazing.

It is also somewhat alarming, especially in the wake of an election where jobs was a major issue for the presidential candidates.

Right now this flagship store is only open to Amazon employees, but the company plans to open the doors to the public in early 2017. Amazon has not formerly announced any further expansion plans, although Business Insider reported that Amazon would ultimately aim for 2,000 stores across the United States. Amazon has been somewhat mum on that so it’s anyone’s guess what’s what.

But another question that has been coming up in discussion over the Amazon Go stores—what about cashiers? According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, cashiering is the second most-common occupation in the United States, with 3.5 million individuals identifying as cashiers. If you think this is stunning news, there was a study in 2013 found that 47% of American jobs are considered “high risk” for potential automation. Alongside truck drivers and line manufacturers? Cashiers. It is possible that if Amazon Go proves successful, the cashier job could just go away.

And what of those 3.5 million jobs? That is the double-edged sword of innovation. Is an individual’s job worth more than convenience? Much like personal privacy, innovation comes at a price. Is it worth it?

Let us know in the Comments section below.



shurtz.jpgA research physicist who has become an entrepreneur and educational leader, and an expert on competency-based education, critical thinking in the classroom, curriculum development, and education management, Dr. Richard Shurtz is the president and chief executive officer of Stratfdord University. He has published over 30 technical publications, holds 15 patents, and is host of the weekly radio show, Tech Talk. A noted expert on competency-based education, Dr. Shurtz has conducted numerous workshops and seminars for educators in Jamaica, Egypt, India, and China, and has established academic partnerships in China, India, Sri Lanka, Kurdistan, Malaysia, and Canada.



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