Amazon Go and the post-cashier world

On holiday in New York this week I made time to stop by to see Amazon Go’s checkout‑free shopping experience, which just opened on Park Avenue in New York.

Amazon Go’s model uses computer vision, sensor fusion, and deep learning to detect what you take off the shelf — in a virtual cart — and then when you’re done shopping, you just leave the store.

No checkout. No self-scanner.

Just grab what you want and go — then your phone will get a push notification with your receipt.

I saw four real-life human people working the store (two out front and two restocking shelves and helping customers), so it wasn’t entirely a replacement for humans. But there certainly wasn’t a human being paid to man a cash register.

And although the behind the scenes experience of grab-and-go retail is downright magical, in practice it didn’t feel all that special.

In practice, the experience was anti-climactic and felt “normal,” which signals this could be as mainstream as automated check-outs at Target.

However, we need to do some further work weighing the pros, cons, and implications of a post-cashier world.

Specifically, surveillance culture coming to retail will have wide-reaching effects into privacy, audience targeting and personalization. In this case, by shopping at Amazon Go, you give Amazon permission to use cameras and machine learning to watch you shop.

Theoretically, Amazon now has a full scan of my face, body, posture and gait. They know what I looked at in the store, what I paused to look at, what I immediately skipped over, and of course, what I took off the shelf to buy. They can use that data to inform recommendations across the Amazon ecosystem to improve recommendations and better determine what triggers would compel me to buy certain products.

That’s great, if the targeting improves my shopping experience and lifestyle. That’s terrible if it’s used for more nefarious purposes.

The slippery slope of data in consumer marketing is wrought with “what-if’s,” but the Amazon Go experiment is extremely compelling.

The convenience of no checkout line when purchasing goods seems like technology that should absolutely exist in 2020. What will the big box stores do with all of that real estate if the checkout lanes are no longer needed? Meanwhile, I would certainly shop at Amazon Go again.

It’s a post-cashier world, and we’re just shopping in it.

Find Amazon Go stores in New York, Chicago, Seattle and San Francisco.