January 22, 2018 3:52 pm
Updated: January 22, 2018 9:15 pm

Amazon opens automated supermarket, spelling doom for retail cashiers

WATCH ABOVE: No cashiers, no lines: Amazon opens retail store

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Amazon’s first automated grocery store opened to the public on Monday with a simple promise: “No lines, no checkout.”

“We created the world’s most advanced shopping technology so you never have to wait in line,” reads the webpage devoted to the 167-square-metre store, which is currently housed inside Amazon’s Seattle campus.

READ MORE: 1-click groceries? How Amazon will likely change the way we buy food

Customers need only scan the Amazon Go app on the way in, pick up whatever items they wish to buy, and walk out. There are no checkout counters.

Instead, something Amazon calls Just Walk Out Technology will detect what you took off the shelves and automatically charge your Amazon account. The company uses sensors, computer vision and artificial intelligence (AI) – the same technology behind self-driving cars – to figure out what’s in your cart, including whether you’ve put something back.

WATCH: Amazon.com Inc opened its checkout-free grocery store to the public on Monday in Seattle, Washington, after more than a year of testing,

 

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So far Amazon has said it has no plans to roll out this model throughout the Whole Foods Market chain, which the tech giant bought last year for US$13.7 billion ($17 billion). But the launch of Amazon Go does seem to hint at the future of the grocery store, one with no humans involved in the check-out process.

 

Cashier is a job on its way to extinction

The job of retail cashier has long been identified as a prime candidate for robot takeover.

“The impact of automation on the labour market largely depends on whether the new technology is a substitute for, or a complement to, human labour,” reads a recent Canadian study by the C.D. Howe Institute. And staffing the checkout would fall under the category of jobs where machines will likely replace people, Rosalie Wyonch, co-author of the report and policy analyst at the Institute, told Global News.

READ MORE: 2017 was a terrible year for Canadian retailers – and 2018 could be even worse

The role of cashier had a 97 per cent probability of becoming obsolete due to technological advances, according to a 2013 U.S. study that examined 702 occupations according to their likelihood of computerization. On a ranking that started with jobs least sensitive to technological disruption, working at the checkout counter came in as No. 657.

WATCH: Amazon enters Canadian grocery market

 

But Amazon Go doesn’t spell the end of all retail jobs

Amazon Go is likely “the next step in the automation of the check-out process,” Wyonch said.

We went from having human beings at every counter to having automated desks where we scan our own items. The latter generally requires a single sales employees overseeing several machines and intervening when, say, the computer doesn’t seem convinced that we have, in fact, placed the scanned item in the bag. Amazon Go, it seems, has done away with the supervisor, too.

READ MORE: First Target, now Sears? Why retail jobs will keep disappearing

But that doesn’t mean that Canadians who currently work as cashiers are about to lose their jobs, according to Wyonch. It will likely take a while before the technology that powers Amazon Go becomes mainstream. Widespread adoption would require it to be less expensive than the automated check-out kiosks we currently have, she said.

And the Amazon Go store itself seems to have hit some bumps along the road, with its public launch initially set for early 2017 and later postponed to today.

WATCH: Is Amazon trying to kill the traditional grocery store?

“For people who currently work as cashiers, this isn’t necessarily something that’s going to take their jobs,” Wyonch said. Although, that line of work is “not something you’d want to get into,” she added.

READ MORE: How much of your budget should you spend on groceries?

And Wyonch says Amazon’s AI-powered store doesn’t mean that the supermarkets of the future will be devoid of employees. In fact, it doesn’t even necessarily mean that they will use fewer workers.

Jobs where face-to-face interaction with customers add significant value, are very difficult to automate, she said.

Indeed, there are people who work at Amazon Go. Some stock shelves, some cook ready-to-eat meals that shoppers can pick up along with their groceries, while others help customers with product recommendations, according to the website.

WATCH: How much of your budget should you spend on groceries?

And if doing away with check-out counters saves considerable time and money, consumers may have more disposable income and a freer schedule that enables them to ramp up their shopping, Wyonch said. That would support more business and more hiring.

READ MORE: How much does a week of groceries cost in Canada? We crunched the numbers

The grocery store of the future may do away with cashiers but may feature legions of product specialists who can quickly answer customers’ questions and provide advice, according to Wyonch.

Not only would you not have to wait in line at the check-out counter, you wouldn’t have to roam the aisles to find someone who can tell you where you can find baking soda.

© 2018 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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