How will Amazon’s no-checkout stores work? They take self-checkout to a new level
As if revolutionizing online shopping wasn’t enough, Amazon wants to change brick-and-mortar grocery shopping, too. It just launched Amazon Go, a shop with no cashiers and no waiting in line, at its headquarters in Seattle, with plans to expand to more stores if it works out. But how will Amazon’s no-checkout stores work?
Like many grocery stores, Amazon Go sells breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snack foods, but unlike many grocery stores, it leaves the whole payment process in the customer’s hands. Instead of scanning purchases and paying for them at a checkout counter, customers sign in with the Amazon Go app upon entering the store, take whatever items they want, and then pay once the items are charged to their Amazon account. Amazon is calling it “a Just Walk Out Shopping experience,” which sounds like a euphemism for shoplifting rather than the next thing in technological advancement.
If there’s no scanning involved, how does the app know what you’ve taken? With “computer vision, deep learning algorithms, and sensor fusion,” of course! Using these technologies that don’t sound menacing at all, the Amazon Go store automatically senses when you remove an item from the shelf or put it back, and calculates the payment due from there. It’s the same kind of tech that powers self-driving cars, except instead of propelling a big chunk of metal through the streets without any accidents or fatalities, it detects whether you took two or three cartons of orange juice. You did take that third one, didn’t you? Don’t lie.
(Shhh. Don’t talk. It can smell fear.)
At the moment, Amazon Go is still in trial mode and is only open to employees of Amazon. However, the company plans to expand this new shopping model in 2017, pending the success of its Seattle location.
There are a number of questions that Amazon will need to address before Amazon Go is fully operational, such as: What happens if the sensors make a mistake and overcharge you? If you hide behind a display so you can hoick a serious wedgie out of your butt crack, will the Amazon Go app know what you did? And how will Amazon offset job losses for cashiers?
Granted, a variation of this last question comes up whenever a new automated process is announced for anything, but it still needs to be answered. About 3.4 million people in America work as cashiers. If Amazon Go’s no-checkout method of shopping takes over, they’re going to need new sources of income.
Then again, that’s a big if. People will always need help in grocery stores, and unless the Amazon Go app is great at answering weird questions, it can’t replace that particular human element of shopping. As long as we keep getting confused or just plain screwing up when buying our groceries, America’s cashiers probably don’t need to worry.