‘Upending traditional retail’ could well be the motto that Amazon lives by. After having taken on brick-and-mortar retail as one of the first movers in e-tail, the e-tail/tech giant has been experimenting with making brick-and-mortar shopping a more efficient experience for some time now. Its newest launch, Amazon Go, is based on a process-integration involving an app, computer vision, sensor fusion, and deep learning. Go will allow shoppers to walk into a store and pick up stuff and leave—doing away with the requirement to queue up at check-out counters. The billing, made out to a linked Amazon.com account, is carried out seamlessly, digitally—and if there is a linked credit/debit card or digital wallet to the account, payment too can be similarly seamless. While, at the moment, Amazon Go is available only to the company’s employees, at only one company-owned store in Seattle, The Guardian reports that it plans to open 2,000 such stores after analysing the experience with this beta version.
It obviously does away with the need for a cashier, but that is likely to be more than offset by the jobs its creates in support for the technology. No check-out line means time-gains for the buyers, which could then translate into productivity gains. If Amazon Go is finally configured to jump across retail players—that is, it functions outside company-owned stores, may be in Amazon verified vendors’ stores or warehouses—that would create a virtuous effect across the brick-and-mortar space. With AI and deep learning, it is also possible that eventually Go is able to identify regularly purchased items and frequency of purchases, and prompts the buyer when a round of shopping is due or is already ready with a template bill. There will be concerns, to be sure, like exchanging or returning a product seems intuitively easier—at least, as of now—with a human cashier. But the technology could nevertheless be truly revolutionary.