A Store Without Cashiers

SEATTLE— This is the week that cashiers finally go the way of the dinosaurs. At least, that’s what retail experts predict could happen after Jeff Bezos launched Amazon Go—a grocery store without cashiers. That’s right, there’s no check out line or even a register at this retail store. All transactions are seamlessly handled by technology. Customers grab what they want, then go home. A few seconds later, a receipt arrives on their smartphone.

Sound confusing? See it for yourself in this cheesy, upbeat video that masks the terror of words like “computer vision,” “deep learning” and “A.I.” with a poppy soundtrack.

“Take whatever you like,” it encourages. “As long as we can keep your soul.”

The store officially opened on Monday, and while customers were busy grabbing gluten-free breads and organic kale chips, Jeff Bezos—Amazon’s 54-year old founder—was busy adding $2.8 billion to his net worth. According to Forbes, that’s many times more than the entire combined wages of all American cashiers ($210 million) in a single day. Bezos ($113.5 billion) currently tops Bill Gates ($92.5 billion) and Warren Buffet ($92.3 billion) as the richest man in the world.

Congrats, Jeff!

Predicting the future of retail

Amazon Go might be great for Jeff Bezos, but what does it mean for retail as a whole? Are we just a few months away from seeing Amazon Go’s widespread adoption at your local big box store? Will a mom-and-pop version be available for independent retailers? Right now, those cards are up in the air, but given Amazon’s history of going after every spare ounce of cash and propensity for home invasion (via Alexa and Prime Air), it’s likely that they’ll consider licensing the technology to retailers at some point in the future.

So, what does that mean for store employees? GeekWire had some initial impressions:

It may be common for a convenience store to be sparsely staffed, but if taken to the scale of a grocery store, it’s easy to see how Amazon Go’s automated approach could translate into less need for retail workers, at least at checkout.

Apart from the kitchen staff preparing fresh food at the back, we saw only two workers in the 1,800-square-foot Amazon Go store during our visit: one at the beer and wine section to check IDs, and another just inside the entrance to greet customers. Workers are also needed to restock shelves and help customers.

For big box stores, an Amazon Go system could eliminate much of the payroll required for entry-level, cashier positions. At an enterprise like Bass Pro Shops, Gander Mountain Outdoors, or Academy, the likely high cost of implementing such a system could one day pay dividends. But I’d argue that the system makes even more sense at a smaller retailer. Here’s why:

If you’re running a small, independent tackle shop, chances are you’ve already got a relatively close relationship with most of your customers. Similar to a local mechanic at an auto parts store, it’s likely not uncommon for the same guides and hardcore anglers to walk into your store every few days and head directly for the same shelf of hooks and lures. Heck, you might even allow some of them behind your counter. Amazon Go takes that personal connection to another level. “Sure guys, just walk in and grab what you want, you’ll get a bill later,” you might say.

In the meantime, while you’re busy racking up effortless sales, you’ve got more time to focus on stocking inventory, connecting with your customers and deciding what to do with the boatload of digital info you’ve now got on your customer base—not to mention a heck of an incentive for them to sign up for an email list.

The hiccup in all of this, of course, is widespread adoption. At 2131 7th Avenue in Seattle, people know that they’re walking into a store powered by Amazon. The customers inside all have Amazon Prime accounts, and they’re part of that digital ecosystem. And while almost everyone seems to have an Amazon account these days, no tackle store—no matter how large or small—can afford to close registers in favor of a cashier-less system yet.

That change may never come. Or, if it does, it may take a decade.

Either way, it’s good to be in the know. And if you’re in the Pacific Northwest, it might just be worth swinging by the nation’s newest experimental grocery store to…give it a go.

The more you know

Want to know more about Amazon Go? Alright. Here’s a Seattle Times writeup on what it’s actually like to shop there. And, scope this hilarious shoplifting incident from a CNBC reporter.

What is Jeff Bezos doing with all of that cash? Sending tourists to space, recovering the Apollo 11 rocket boosters from the Atlantic Ocean and donating a bit (just a bit) to charity.