Quibbl Politics writer Sabrina Schnurr discusses the supermarket industry and how Amazon is shaking things up with its revolutionary new supermarkets, which the company has dubbed Amazon Go.
By Sabrina Schnurr
For a over century, customers have been following the same routine at grocery stores: grab a cart, search through aisles for items, wait in line for a cashier to scan your items, pay, and walk out with your bagged groceries. However, Amazon shook the grocery game on February 22nd, when the first Amazon Go test store was opened to the public in Seattle. The mini-market has done away with a critical (and perhaps the most irritating) aspect of shopping: checkout lines.
Shopping at the store requires a smartphone, an Amazon account, and the Amazon Go app. To enter through the turnstiles, you merely scan a code from the app and begin shopping. Meanwhile, high-tech cameras and sensors are tracking every item you pick up or put back, adding each to your virtual shopping cart. Forget about small talk: once you’re done, just walk out and your account is automatically charged. There are no cashiers or baggers, but there are still many employees available for help, monitoring the software, restocking shelves, and checking IDs near the alcohol.
Of course, the concept faces some challenges for the long-run. These include security and privacy issues stemming from the store’s technological tracking devices; Amazon has been relatively quiet about how the store tracks shoppers’ movements, and people are eventually going to ask how their actions are being traced. Other problems include criticism over slashing cashier employment, how it easy the system makes it to overspend, and how the smartphone requirement and denial of food stamps may exclude low-income shoppers. Arguably most important would be the store’s ability to sustain itself at a larger level. Currently, items available for purchase are very restricted; the shelves are primarily stocked with pre-made, packaged foods and cooking basics. Personal items and fresh produce are limited (perhaps because of the difficulty in tracking loose fruit without a scale). So while the store may work now as an on-the-go snack stop, can it hold up as a family’s go-to grocery store?
The future of the Amazon Go model remains unclear. Amazon could potentially drive corner stores and delis out of business, just as it has disrupted bookstores and cable services. Meanwhile, there’s also speculation that Amazon could sell the shopper-tracking system to other retailers. To the dismay of many shoppers who enjoy small talk at their local cashier line, Amazon is reportedly planning to open up to six more test stores in 2018.
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