Just a dreadful experiment….

Is Amazon evolving? Becoming the next Walmart? Turning into the ultimate supplier of the basic level of human needs? Or is it devolving? Departing from the virtual world to become in touch with their customers? Those are heavy loaded questions, many of which are made by economists, businessmen, entrepreneurs, and this week, Publishing Students.

The issue is not the brick-and-mortar, you can ignore that, that is just marketing, the real deal here is, again, mining for information.

Lets start small and check the following infographics about Maslow’s Hierarchy of human needs and how the internet address the problem:

As you can see, all levels of this pyramid are covered somehow by social media, except, for obvious reasons, the base, the Physiological level.

For now, we have this sort of experiment with food, Amazon is putting into practice in its brand new brick-and-mortar store, Amazon Go. At first I was wondering: Is this the first step to cover the food needs  of the human being? Will they start metrics as to how much watermelon, burritos and water bottles you consume? The first option seemed unlikely, but the second, you can bet they will.

Apparently, most of what you can find in such place is food, fruit, wraps, beverages, lunches and the like. Items that you won’t find convenient to order online for “immediate delivery next day”. So unless you are talking about a rare food from the other side of the world, its not a great idea. But the fact that people can go, pick their stuff, avoid the cashier and walk out with the empowering sensation that no one put them a barrier or customs is interesting and scary.

I am really not impressed by the acclaimed visual camera system that recognizes what you pick and put on your bag, so they know exactly what you bought and just charge your card. One of my peers (a very clever one) told us the other day she would love to go to that store and start putting things in other people’s bags, just to check how clever the system is and… have fun. Lovely! I want to go too!

But the camera recognition system has been around for years and is in a state far more advanced and is used for more important stuff than saving you the cashier check-out. Face recognition can be used by police to know if suspects are circulating, a single police car can scan dozens of plates at a time and compare them to a database for criminals, stolen property, etc. Hey! there is a shopping mall near here in Burnaby that have cars scanning your plates to know if you have been parked for more than the time limit allowed.

So the interesting thing to me about this experiment by Amazon, is what people do with this system and how they manage acquisition of goods, so they learn how to better sell you… anything.

I don’t think this experiment is deign to consider it an evolution or devolution, in my opinion it is neither of those, nor is the opening chapter of the future of retail stores. I have heard opinions about it being a showroom for things people will buy online anyway for a lower price, or “they are trying to become the ultimate supplier of everything”, or, “they want to change our shopping Behavior”.

I don’t doubt many people will see the benefits of a cashier free, pick-up system. To me, it appears to be a grocery store catering to busy people who do not have much lunchtime, but I don’t see them buying other stuff you can find at Walmart or Superstore.

It also cannot be considered an evolution or devolution, because there is no such thing as an evolution curve for brick-and-mortar stores pointing to a digital stage, much less for grocery stores, which is what those Amazon premises are. There is no law that dictates a physical store must evolve by turning into digital or vice-versa. The fact they opened that store, seems to obey other goals, they do not aspire to become the next premier Cantaloupe, Watermelon and Pineapple salad suppliers.

Since, the automatic checkout can be carried by other, more efficient and proven ways, such as using a Radio Frequency IDentification label (RFID), in my opinion, its just an experiment to test a new tracking and checkout system that can be either implemented in their own stores, or sold to other retailers (with Amazon providing the logistical platform of course), or as a new method to gather information that not even Google can obtain. Imagine the possibilities once they know your grocery purchasing habits? Scary.

Last but not least, its not even an original idea, since 2016, Ali-Baba has Hema Supermarket, a store that does exactly the same, and much more, while maintaining job positions for people which, although not having the best jobs, generate income for families instead of pouring every penny of the process into Amazon’s purses.

So, all in all, just an unethical, covert experiment, with no permission from their experimental subjects/customers (who even pay them to be studied). Personally, hope it fails, simply because of the dreadful implications related to privacy, but who knows what people are giving in exchange in order to save the cashier and that sense of fulfillment that walking away without checking out.

Thanks for your time!

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