Amazon has opened its first store in Seattle: It’s called Amazon Go and the unique aspect is that once you place items in your cart or bag, you don’t need to stop at the register. No, it’s not some sort of charitable supermarket, but rather a new type of store run by artificial intelligence, which recognizes individuals and deducts the amount owed for their purchases directly from their account credit.
Here’s how it works: whoever already has an Amazon account enters through turnstiles, scanning a QR code on their smartphone; they can then buy what they want by removing products from the shelves. In true Bezos fashion (the founder of Amazon), you can find everything inside the store: fruit, pasta, vegetables, fresh products and those with long shelf lives. Basically, it’s like physically being inside e-commerce, but with a limited product offering.
The AI that controls the Amazon Go environment follows each customer, noting each item taken and any that may be put back, so no errors are made and there are no charges for products not brought home. With an always-updated list, the assistant keeps track of the customer until they exit the store, deducting the total amount from their account.
According to Amazon, when they showed a video of Amazon Go for the first time in December 2016, the system will speed up the customers’ purchase process, especially for those who have little time to shop. Even today, if you stop at the store around the corner just to pick up a box of pasta, you run the risk of waiting on line for half an hour, unless someone is kind enough to let you cut in front of them. Millennials certainly can’t slow down the frantic pace they’re used to, and with the invention of Amazon Go, the hustle and bustle of consumers doesn’t have to stop, following the “buy in a click” logic available online. If Prime is the service that cut delivery times in half and Prime Now has squeezed them into a few hours, Go is the hybrid that, better than any others, unites the two worlds, also bringing the brand closer to those who aren’t familiar with the digital platform, those who prefer shopping in brick-and-mortar stores.
It’s obvious that with turnstiles instead of registers, we’ve eliminated one of the few points of contact between customers and the store, whether it be big or small. Once the person behind the register is gone, the financial savings for employers will be huge, as will job losses. Of course, we’re talking about a single Amazon Go, the only one in the world, but when you think ahead to 2030, it’s really not that complicated, especially if you consider Jeff Bezos’s power and his desire to expand across borders.
The project carried out in Seattle is proof of the extent to which technology is a threat to some professions, destined to disappear. It must be said that, for everything else, there are still physical employees, such as storeroom workers and stock clerks, which robots may not have difficulty replacing sooner or later, perhaps even mingling with humans.
The hybrid needed
For years, the world of traditional shopping, suddenly thrown off balance by Internet services, has tried to take back the reins of commerce. While today it’s normal to take a picture of a product in store to compare its price online, up until a few years ago this had to be done with the utmost discretion, as you’d risk being exposed and scolded by store employees. This has done nothing more than take digital purchase practices to the extreme, for the benefit of online operators. Luckily, business strategies have changed, also incorporating interesting integration options, such as picking up an item in store that you bought online, maybe even with a discount.
With Go, Amazon has opened up new intelligence data scenarios that had only been touched upon until now. Information obtained after dozens of purchases on the portal can now be cross-checked with information on individual behaviors in stores. So where will advertising go now? Everywhere, potentially: depending on the customers, ad hoc deals could appear on specific items, in line with the habits of individual accounts. And freedom? Privacy? Gone, along with cashiers, in favor of smarter, more obsessive and omnipresent shopping.
A future to keep an eye on
It must be said that Amazon Go isn’t the only project of its kind worldwide. The American retail chain Walmart is testing out a similar in-store system called “Project Kepler”. The famous brand’s stores employ nearly 2 million cashiers, who are already fearful for their future. Kepler is still in its study and definition phase, but it’s clear that the commerce of the near future will follow common applicative methods, whose organizational processes, both internal and for the public, are largely based on technology. And what can be said about 32M, the company that has already started to insert chips into its employees’ bodies?
On this basis, one can hope that ethics continues to prevail over science as much as possible. This doesn’t mean being out-of-date or opposed to change, but rather humanizing it and making it less impactful for those who, more than others, will be shaken up over it. It means embracing, guiding, and assimilating, to prevent society from losing its bearings.