Oh, Amazon. Without it, I would have to brave electronics stores, pay retail for hardcover books and haul 12-packs of LaCroix home from the store on a regular basis. Not really my thing. But now, Amazon is pulling a 180, and experimenting with retail supermarket locations. Say what?
They’ve already opened up an Amazon Go grocery store for employees in Seattle, but Amazon wants to expand. According to reports, they’ve come up with a prototype for a grocery store that’s just like the one you usually go to — except everything is taken off the shelves, bagged and sold by robots. Yep.
As someone who grew up watching a lot of sci-fi movies, I’m always wary of any plan that hinges on: “just use robots.” But also, as someone who spent a lot of time working in retail, the move to automation has another, more realistic scary implication: fewer jobs for hourly workers (who are predominately women, 15 percent of whom are living in total or near poverty).
Most industries have been increasing automation as technology advances, but so far, most retail stores and restaurants have held out. But as time marches on, companies are coming up with more ways to replace human workers with robots and computers, so the businesses can make money without having to pay employees.
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A grocery store that’s fully automated could be convenient. Less time waiting in line, less time trying to find what you need. But even if it’s faster, I wonder if people will miss being able to ask an actual human for help in the store. And if Amazon’s business model is successful, you can bet it’ll spread to other stores. That means people will lose jobs, and because of that, I’m having a hard time getting on board with this plan.
Also — correct me if I’m wrong — but isn’t the whole point of Amazon not having to leave your house? I can order hair dye, a couch and a pint of ice cream all on the same website while in my pajamas. To me, that’s a winning business model, and I’m not sure Amazon’s robot-run brick-and-mortar dreams will ever be able to compete with that.