In January, Amazon opened the Seattle doors of Amazon Go—a fully automated grocery store with no cashiers or checkout lines. On Monday, the tech giant confirmed that it would roll out two more Amazon Go stores in Chicago and San Francisco, raising concerns about potential job losses and the future of automation.
In an Amazon Go store, customers can walk in, scan an Amazon Go app, pick up the items they want, and leave. Amazon charges your account, and sends a receipt when you leave the store—no checkout line needed.
The technology behind this—called Just Walk Out—taps computer vision, sensor fusion, and deep learning tools to determine which items a customer put in their cart, and make the right charges, according to the Amazon Go website.
SEE: IT leader's guide to the future of artificial intelligence (Tech Pro Research)
It's not yet known when the Chicago and San Francisco stores will open. The cities were tipped off to the news when Amazon posted job listings for Amazon Go store managers in both locations last month, The Seattle Times reported. In February, some reported that Amazon plans on expanding the stores to six new locations in 2018.
Amazon is not the only retailer experimenting with artificial intelligence (AI). Walmart is also testing fully automated stores, and a local grocery store in Wisconsin features a mobile shopping experience that allows customers to scan items as they shop and pay on the way out without needed a cashier. McDonald's also announced plans last year to replace cashiers with digital ordering kiosks in 2,500 of its restaurants.
As automated stores begin opening their doors, many have raised concerns about the possibility of tech replacing human workers in retail jobs. However, the impact of automation remains unclear. While some argue that AI will lead to new types of jobs for displaced workers, other say that it will destroy more jobs than it creates.
As noted by TechRepublic's Conner Forrest, automated stores and other businesses will require technical experts to repair and maintain the hardware, as well as human store managers. However, it may not be realistic to assume that every displaced cashier can be trained to work with AI-powered machines, or that such training would be available. While companies like Amazon could take on this task, it will likely need to have a positive impact on their bottom line before it happens.
The big takeaways for tech leaders:
- Amazon is planning to open fully automated Amazon Go grocery stores in Chicago and San Francisco.
- The rise of automated retail stores has some worried about the potential for AI to replace human workers.
- Special report: How to implement AI and machine learning (free PDF) (TechRepublic)
- Amazon Go: Here are the takeaways business tech execs need to know (ZDNet)
- Amazon AI: The smart person's guide (TechRepublic)
- Amazon kills the checkout line in new Amazon Go concept store (ZDNet)
- Amazon Go grocery store replaces cashiers with automation and AI (TechRepublic)
Alison DeNisco Rayome is a Staff Writer for TechRepublic. She covers CXO, cybersecurity, and the convergence of tech and the workplace.