Before I write this post I have to come clean, I'm a bit of an Amazon junkie, buying almost everything I need through the online store, and owning several Alexa-compatible devices. The speed at which I can get almost anything delivered to my door is what attracts me, the time saving helps me avoid poorly stocked shops, muzak and increasingly disgruntled shop workers in the UK.
I have made a decision that in 2018 I will try and avoid Amazon for anything I can buy locally at a reasonable price (doesn't have to be as cheap). My local high street faces the fate of those in so many other market towns with a new out of town complex opening at the end of last year and it's important to me to try and support local businesses... but, I'm still an Amazon fan-boy and their new checkout-less store facinates me.
The advances in technology that have made this possible sound complex, although this article argues they're relatively simple; an array of camera built into shelves and POS capture your movements and log what you've picked up, adding the items to a virtual shopping cart which you're billed for as you leave the store.
What I find most interesting is the more complex issue of personal data. As we give up more and more data to corporations, allowing someone to track our every move, purchase and decision whilst shopping is something I am still not sure about.
It's a big step forward from my Tesco clubcard, and I worry that a lot more of the emphasis behind the physical store is to drive people back online. If you buy milk, bread, cereal or other consumables regularly, and Amazon can work out your exact brand, amount needed and frequency of purchase, it can push you through marketing and incentives to drop that off your shopping list onto a recurring payment that keeps you off the high street. That in turn will hit smaller retailers the hardest, and may lead to reduced consumer choice.
On the other hand, this could lead to reductions in food waste. If an algorithm can predict when I run out of milk and order for me, I'm less likely to buy too much or too early. The opportunity also exists for this technology to be applied to other areas of the supply chain, and there is a potential that if Amazon can crack the complexities of mapping and predicting the human influence on repeat products, this could be something the FM industry can pick up and capitalise on.
Perhaps I'm overthinking the challenge. It's one thing to collect the data, but another challenge all together to actually make good use of it; the cost of analysing and getting something meaningful from the data can outweigh the benefits, but I'll be watching the feedback from this experiment with interest over the coming months.
On the philosophical side, I’m troubled, of course — a convenience store you just walk out of is a friendly mask on the face of a highly controversial application of technology: ubiquitous personal surveillance. It’s a bit overkill, I think, to replace a checker or self-checkout stand with a hundred cameras that unblinkingly record every tiny movement. What’s to gain? 20 or 30 seconds of your time back? Lack of convenience has hardly been a complaint for this market — it’s right there in the name: “convenience store.”