Imagine walking in to a supermarket, picking up a sandwich for lunch and walking straight out again. No queuing up to pay at the tills. Welcome to checkout-free shopping, says our guest, Hannah Jolliffe.
If Amazon’s latest checkout-free technology catches on then this could become a commonplace scenario: carrying items out of a shop without stopping to pay for them or being stopped by security staff.
Of course, when I say ‘no paying’ that doesn’t mean that you won’t be charged. Amazon will be adding your items to your ‘virtual cart’ and charging your account instead.
‘Just walk out technology’
All sounding a bit scary? It could be a lot closer than you think, as Amazon Go’s first checkout-free supermarket has opened this week in Seattle. Its glossy marketing video shows carefree customers gaily skipping around the shop, helping themselves to what they want…
If, like me, you’re a little confused about how this actually works then I’m sure you’ll be reassured by Amazon’s brilliant explanation:
‘How does it work? We use computer vision, deep learning algorithms and sensor fusion, much like you’d find in self-driving cars. We call it “just walk out technology”.’
Great, I’m glad that’s all cleared up then.
Testing the technology
Joking aside, there do seem to have been some hiccups with Amazon’s checkout-free technology. For example, when the store was triallled by Amazon employees in December there were problems with it identifying people with similar body types. And when children were brought into the shop during the test phase, they apparently caused chaos by moving items.
So, what happens when a customer gets charged for items they haven’t taken? Will we need to carefully scrutinise our accounts to see if items have been collected correctly? And how will Amazon know if we are eligible for a refund or not? I can image a long, dull process of trying to get my money back.
Problems with technology taking over our shopping needs also emerged when Britain’s first cyborg shop assistant Fabio was sacked after sending customers to the wrong place and generally causing confusion. Could this be a sign that we aren’t yet ready to be handing out P45s to our shop assistants?
Are you ready for a cash-free society?
We’ve talked a lot about how society is becoming increasingly ‘cashless’ here on Which? Conversation recently with the news that 10,000 free cashpoints could disappear from our high streets. There also seems to be a growing dependence on chip and Pin. Is this latest development from Amazon another (big) step in the direction towards a cashless society?
While I’m not very surprised to see this technology being rolled out, I’m still a little alarmed by it. The simple interactions involved when shopping play an important role in creating a sense of community. When the need to make basic pleasantries with shopkeepers is gone, there will be even fewer opportunities for strangers to interact.
OK, it will take time to get this technology working properly and to then roll it out to smaller independent shops. But it’s highly likely that the next generation may never experience paying for items at a till.
This is a guest contribution by Hannah Jolliffe. All views expressed here are Hannah’s own and not necessarily those also shared by Which?.
Do you want to see checkout-free shops in the UK?
No – what’s wrong with the system we have? (75%, 524 Votes)
Yes – it will be quicker and easier (13%, 94 Votes)
Only in bigger supermarkets (11%, 79 Votes)
Total Voters: 697
Does Amazon’s checkout-free grocery store alarm you or are you excited by the prospect of a world that offers more convenience and speed?