Everyone is gaga over the idea of frictionless grocery shopping: tap your phone on a turnstile device upon entry, retrieve food from the shelves, and walk out; your bill is charged to the credit card connected to your device. No waiting in line; no chit chat as your groceries are rung up.
In other words, say hello to Amazon Go, which will be tested in Seattle starting next year. I am not as enthusiastic about this idea as most others, and do not see it as an improvement over anything. Will it save me time? Of course, it will or should. But I’m not a fan of self check-out lanes, the systems for which, especially look-up screens for fruits and vegetable, are annoying to use.
Half the time, there is some glitch that needs the attention of the guy watching the self-service system. A completely automated scheme, as proposed by Amazon, will be worse. Let’s look at some of the obstacles.
1. No hand holding. Stubborn folks who always want personal attention will struggle with the system the whole time.
2. Tag Mania. Every single item has to have an RFID tag. We are years away from mass market vendors adding these tags. It won’t happen unless the stores are everywhere and demand it. That means the selection in these stores will be lame unless employees add RFID tags themselves, which is costly.
3. Weight dilemma. There is no way this can work well with fruits and vegetables that need to be weighed, which will cause a bottleneck. Fruits and vegetables will have to be packaged like you find in the northeast, where they will wrap two tomatoes in a shrink wrap tray. This kind of weird sterility is not appealing, but will be necessary. Two pre-weighed, shrink-wrapped onions? Yuck.
4. Hackers. This system will be too easy to hack. You can bring in pre-programmed RFID tags and slap them on top of other tags with signal blockers. You can drop your items into your own cloth bag, which you’ve conveniently lined with Faraday cage material blocking the signals altogether. Or you can go in with a fake account and billing goes off into the ether. I can easily see a few dozen ways people can waltz out without paying anything.
5. Costs of security. While the business saves money on the checkers, they lose on the security system and constant monitoring needed to prevent theft. I’m guessing you’ll have to have someone at the door doing a re-check of what you bought the way Costco and other big box stores do. There goes the convenience of running in and out.
6. Lines anyway. There is a need to maintain spacing so you are not paying for someone else’s groceries. If these stores did a booming business and there were a lot of people, you’ll have to get into a line to check out; there’s no way around it. Again, not super convenient.
7. Suspicious of prices. I think the overhead for a store like this might require higher prices, not the lower prices you want by eliminating cashiers.
8. No cash. These cashless systems are not to my liking, so I and others are locked out.
I cannot see this being much of a success, but I was not convinced about Amazon when it began life as an online bookseller. I could easily be wrong about this.
Today’s buyer loves large, modern grocery stores stocked with a massive variety of products. The limited-selection stores tend to be mini-marts that are never a place to do serious shopping. I see Amazon Go as more of a convenience store than anything I’d want to shop at. If I need a gallon of milk, I go in and out fast. For anything more than that, I’ll go to a real store.