July 4, 2018
By Wei Shi
Etail giant Amazon has confirmed it is to open a second, bigger cashier-free retail outlet in Seattle later this year.
Earlier this year, Amazon opened its first brick-and-mortar shop to the public, which we read was a dress rehearsal for something bigger to come. The new one to be opened on Seattle’s 5th Avenue will almost double the floor size of the first one, and we believe must have improved on the accuracy of item tracking, possibly other innovations as well.
Amazon has never stopped innovating. It has revolutionised how distribution channels are operated, how sourcing and logistics are managed, and most importantly, how user data is mined and used. It is not only leading in consumer IoT with the cashier-free retail experiment, but also is market leader in cloud computing (AWS), and artificial intelligence, or AI (“Hello, Alexa”)
Once upon a time, in the late 20th century, Amazon’s mantra was “Earth’s Biggest Bookstore”. Instead, Jeff Bezos earned himself the title of “the world’s biggest snake-oil salesman” from his fellow book sellers, according to a New Yorker profile. Fast forward 20 years, lying in the trails of Amazon’s ascendency are not only countless independent (and not so independent) bookshops, but also high street retailers, and grocers, among others.
Other retail chains are responding with their own automation solutions. The UK’s Tesco has been testing till-free shopping with its own scan and go app. McDonald’s has rolled out in-store tall touchscreens where customers can order and pay, making the counters more like collection points.
Which inevitably brings us back to the elephant in the room: what are the job prospects of retail cashiers? Simple economics will dictate that when wages rise to a level to make automation more economical, most businesses will choose to switch to machines. Meanwhile, simple psychology and sociology will tell that human beings crave a human touch. Striving for a balance between efficient (and potentially cheaper) self-service and more human (and more humane) job market is not only a question for businesses.
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