After Amazon announced its $13.4 billion purchase of Whole Foods grocery stores last week, some are speculating that the supermarket chain’s cashiers might eventually be looking for new jobs, according to The New York Times.
Amazon is already testing out a store in Seattle — Amazon Go — that has no salespeople or checkout lines. Instead, people simply scan their phones to enter, and sensors with computer vision monitor what they put in their carts. When they leave, they are automatically charged for what they bought.
Currently, it is open only to Amazon employees, and there reportedly have been problems — especially when the store is crowded. But the technology will improve as its further tested and developed.
Some of the other retailers experimenting with the technology include Lowe’s stores in California, which have customer service robots that roam the aisles, as well as the Eatsa chain of restaurants that allow customers to order from their phones or on store iPads, and then pick up their food from a cubby displaying their name. And fast-food chains like McDonald’s and Panera use digital kiosks so customers can order and pay on their own.
Before the Amazon acquisition, Whole Foods said it intentionally doesn’t “over-automate our stores, at least not on the front end. We want to have the personal touch of real people.” And Amazon has said that it has no plans to lay off Whole Foods workers or use Amazon Go technology to automate cashiers’ jobs.
But Erik Brynjolfsson, director of the M.I.T. Initiative on the Digital Economy, said the retail giant’s plans could be even bigger.
“The bigger and more profound way that technology affects jobs is by completely reinventing the business model,” he said. “Amazon didn’t go put a robot into the bookstores and help you check out books faster. It completely reinvented bookstores. The idea of a cashier won’t be so much automated as just made irrelevant — you’ll just tell your Echo what you need, or perhaps it will anticipate what you need, and stuff will get delivered to you.”