Hello Future

Figure 1. The prototype Amazon Go store at Day One, Seattle, Washington. From "Amazon Go in Seattle" by SounderBruce, 2016, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Amazon_Go_in_Seattle,_December_2016.jpg. Copyright 2016 by SounderBruce.
Figure 1. The prototype Amazon Go store at Day One, Seattle, Washington. From “Amazon Go in Seattle” by SounderBruce, 2016, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Amazon_Go_in_Seattle,_December_2016.jpg. Copyright 2016 by SounderBruce.

As it looks it is time to say our collective goodbyes to the cashier, a job that is so very much 2018, as our collective desire to not have to deal with each other is revolutionising the shopping experience. A technological development which can be nicely illustrated by the shopping evolution declared by the phenomenon that are the Amazon Go stores. A retail manifestation of the Internet of Things, a shopping experience completed with cameras, sensors and an app to process transactions (“Amazon.com”, n.d.). This, the world’s most advanced shopping experience has been postulated as the future of retail, which at this point might be a promise or a threat (McFarland, 2018).

For now, the customer, who is the main subject of the promotion material, as well as most news coverage, is portrayed as the major benefactor. Not only is the customer astounded and positively excited by the incredible feat of being able to take goods, put them in your cart, and then just walk out, he is also grateful being blessed with this life-changing amount of convenience of not waiting in lines and having minimal interaction with others. It is fascinating how even in the news coverage the news reporter takes on the role of the infantile consumer. She is amazed by how she can simply scan her smartphone at the electronic gates at the store entrance, pick up a few items from the shelf and walk back out, portraying the kind of wonder you see in children when you show them a magic trick (Dougall, 2018; McFarland, 2018).

It does make you wonder if the infantilization of people, an American specialty as well as a contemporary trend, is as much desire to make it as easy for them as possible as it is wishful thinking on the company side. Kids are easy to cater to and even easier to exploit. As you distract a child with a magic trick you might distract a customer with a magic check out, while you take their lollipops or data. To put that in a communication science context, if the outward communication of an organisation is part of gaining legitimacy in society, if communication is indeed a complex process not only describing but also creating reality, then companies like Amazon are creating or at least trying to create a customer that is naive, scared of social interaction, unconcerned about his privacy and enjoys convince uber alles (Brønn, van Ruler, & Verčič, 2005).

An assumption that is reinforced by Amazon as it is mostly promoting their new shopping extravaganza as just that, no mention of privacy or even taking the possibility into account that some people actually enjoy interacting with a cashier. To refer to a personal anecdote; when I was a kid I was quite anxious to talk to strangers. As a result going to the store and having to interact with the cashiers was a daunting prospect for me. Ultimately though, having to go through those interactions helped me to become comfortable with it. Not only that but it also was the beginning of a live long journey of improving my social skills as I experienced the elevation and the pleasure that overcoming once anxiety and connecting to people brings. As such I am wondering what this will mean to kids like I was. What it will mean to elders, many of which are already starved of social interaction and as a result often extensively savouring interactions with cashiers or grocery store employees. At least it should not be a surprise to anyone that having less social interactions lead to less social competence leads to a less socially competent society (Uhls et al., 2014).

So what do we have here? We have a retail prototype that benefits the business by providing them savings in regards to employee wages, and a rich set of collected data about customers shopping trends that are used to send personalized coupons for customers, notify them about their favorite products and when their favorite items are out of stock or on sale (“IoT Is Building Higher Levels Of Customer Engagement”, 2018). The customer gains the convenience of a quicker checkout as well as being able to avoid one more human interaction which comes at the cost of sociability and agency in regards to their data.

Figure 2. People exiting the Amazon Go grocery store in Seattle, Washington, USA. From “Amazon Go” by S. Iqbal, 2018, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Amazon_Go_-_Seattle_(20180804111407).jpg. Copyright 2018 by Sikander Iqbal

References

[Amazon.com]. (n.d.). Retrieved February 20, 2019, from https://www.amazon.com/b?ie=UTF8

IoT Is Building Higher Levels Of Customer Engagement. (2018, June 14). Retrieved February 20, 2019, from https://www.forbes.com/sites/insights-inteliot/2018/06/14/iot-is-building-higher-levels-of-customer-engagement/

Iqbal, S. (Photographer). (2018). People exiting the Amazon Go grocery store in Seattle, Washington, USA. [Digital Image]. Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Amazon_Go_-_Seattle_(20180804111407).jpg

Brønn, C., van Ruler, B., & Verčič, D. (2005). Organizations, communication and management.

McFarland, M. (03.10.2018). I spent 53 minutes in Amazon Go and saw the future of retail. Retrieved February 28, 2019, from https://edition.cnn.com/2018/10/03/tech/amazon-go/index.html

Uhls, Y. T., Michikyan, M., Morris, J., Garcia, D., Small, G. W., Zgourou, E., & Greenfield, P. M. (2014). Five days at outdoor education camp without screens improves preteen skills with nonverbal emotion cues. Computers in Human Behavior, 39, 387-392.

Sabrina Dougall, S. D. (2018, January 23). Amazon Go: Internet of Things shopping open to the public. Retrieved March 6, 2019, from https://www.cbronline.com/news/amazon-go-internet-of-things-retail
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SounderBruce. (Photographer). (2016). The prototype Amazon Go store at Day One, Seattle, Washington. [Digital Image]. Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Amazon_Go_in_Seattle,_December_2016.jpg