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Amazon launches cashier-less store
January 28, 2018, 5:18 pm

Amazon Go, the e-commerce giant, opened a new grocery store in downtown Seattle that is remarkable in that there are no cashiers at the check-out counters.

Prior to the opening, Amazon did a sound job of explaining many of the particulars of its new concept store, one that the company hopes will bring more online customers into contact with its increasingly important offline presence. The store features cameras and sensors that detect when you walk into the store and when items are removed from shelves and check-in kiosks near the entrance for scanning your phone to register your presence via Amazon Prime.

One of the biggest questions people seem to have is: what happens if you try to steal something or accidentally fail to pay for something you have taken? In answer, the Vice-President of Amazon Go, Gianna Puerini, said that accidental shoplifting “happens so rarely that we didn’t even bother building in a feature for customers to tell us it happened.”

Revealing that there is not even a feature to tell Amazon if you have taken something without paying is rather telling. It suggests the company is so confident in its system that it has not built out any protocol for or safeguard against missing items. And it is not just that, but Amazon also is not drawing a distinction between those who accidentally leave without paying for something and those who may be actively trying to steal. All of this raises some interesting questions about how robust this system is and whether it really is the bolder and more convenient future of retail.

On one hand, it would seem that Amazon is playing a bit of a numbers game here. Sure, one cup of yogurt that you accidentally take is not going to affect the Go store’s bottom line. All forms of retail also deal with shoplifting as a built-in cost of operating a brick-and-mortar business, and Amazon’s immense size, scale, and financial war chest means it can weather those costs more than any comparable company in the retail sector.

The other factor to keep in mind is that perhaps Amazon’s system is so good that stealing just is not an option. How would somebody go about shoplifting from Amazon Go anyway? You would still have to check in with your Prime account, and you would still have to purchase items to make it not look suspicious that you were wandering the store, and then leaving without a bag. With cameras watching your every move and sensors detecting even subtle changes in inventory, I doubt even the boldest shoplifters could reasonably find a loophole.

It will be fascinating to watch how customers acclimatize to the Go experience and whether any good faith (or bad faith) experimenters find ways to undermine it.

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