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The End of Shopping?

Amazon is opening a new store:


They call it "grab and go."  You walk in, grab what you want off a shelf, and walk out.  Ta da!  No lines, no waiting.

No human beings.  No jobs.

It's not that simple, of course.  A chip in each item sends out a wifi signal that notices when an item is moved, which theoreticallhy prevents shoplifting.  The shopper stops at a subway-style exit area, scans a smartphone app which alerts the store to his or her credit card information, and a computer totals up the items the shopper is carrying.  The shopper's card is debited and a receipt comes by email.

So far it's one store, but you can see Wal-Mart hopping on this bandwagon, can't you just?  No cashiers or baggers to hire.  Just people stock shelves and be as unavailable as possible to customers who want to ask where the bananas are.

This spells the end of retail workers.  You can see this coming to store after store after store.  Retail jobs will be as dead as coal mining, and millions of jobs will vanish.

The conservatives I reluctantly follow are snarking that all the minimum wage workers who have been advocating for a $15 hourly wage are responsible for this.  Rather than pay a higher wage, you see, the stores have decided to develop technology that lets them avoid paying wages altogether.  So it's the fault of those bleeding-heart liberals.

No.  Not at all.

It's the fault of rapacious, unchecked capitalism and the lawmakers who allow it to continue.

Amazon (and McDonald's, which has put order kiosks in some restaurants) was working on this technology long before the $15 movement came to light.  And this would have happened with or without the $15 movement.  Ask a corporation this question: "Would you rather pay your workers A) $15 per hour, B) $7 per hour, or C) nothing?"  Which answer are you going to get every time?


This has nothing to do with raising the minimum wage and everything to do with CEOs wanting to increase their own salaries.

If you're in retail, get out now.  Unless you're the owner.  Then you're sitting fine.


( 8 comments — Leave a comment )
Dec. 6th, 2016 06:27 pm (UTC)
"Get out now" implies they have somewhere to "get" to.

But this is why, unless the line is impossibly long, I refuse to use the self-checkout lanes. Yeah, it might save me a minute or three, but it tells the store manager that they don't need as many clerks on, to handle store capacity, and I'd rather have clerks on-hand.
Dec. 6th, 2016 07:06 pm (UTC)
"Get out now" implies they have somewhere to "get" to.

Of course! Everyone will magically find a new job Somewhere Else. Didn't you know that? It's how capitalism magically works, after all.
Dec. 7th, 2016 02:04 am (UTC)
I've been saying for years, the CEO brags, "Look at all the money I've saved by laying off all these workers! But darn those consumers, why won't they spend?" Uhh, maybe because you've taken away their income? Corporate America needs to make the connection between 'labor' and 'consumer.' Seems obvious to me, but obviously not to them.
Dec. 8th, 2016 03:22 pm (UTC)
Absolutely. It's all short-term thinking. We'll make money this quarter. But ten quarters from now, when no one is working and has money to spend? What then?
Dec. 7th, 2016 06:30 am (UTC)
The thing I find so surprising is that so many people think this is a good thing, because it will improve their shopping experience. Even leaving aside the obvious socio-economic implications, which as you pointed out are severe... I find it hard to imagine there will not be unintended cultural consequences, both at a large scale and otherwise.

One small but (to me) important aspect of this is the impact on older single people. I know a number of people who are in their late 50s or 60s and live a solitary life. For these people, the casual encounters with store clerks can often be one of the steadiest sources of interpersonal relationships. Doubly so for those suffering from depression or any other form of (mild) mental illness. Those people will have a hard time regaining that level of interaction in a world where 80% or more of their shopping will be done without humans-in-the-loop. This seems overall like a pretty terrible thing.

It's not to say that there are no ways to mitigate the issue, of course. But it seems unfortunate that it's not the sort of thing that's even talked about, especially not in the more influential media articles I've seen on the topic.
Dec. 8th, 2016 03:25 pm (UTC)
I hadn't thought about that aspect, and I agree with you, now that I see it.
Dec. 7th, 2016 05:06 pm (UTC)
What consistently boggles me is how many people are totally fine with adding apps to their phones with direct access to their credit cards or banking. It's fine for one thing, sure, but the more you have centralized to your phone the worse it is. The specific angle I come from is I work in IT and I see, everyday, people who are so incautious with their phones. They don't treat them like credit cards. They treat them like, well... phones.

This? This kind of increased "if you want to shop here you have to a] have a phone and b] use only credit cards". As if the argument that credit cards have more security is valid as a full stop. If we wanted we could make debit cards/accounts AS secure. We're increasingly shoving people away from using the money they have and restricting them to credit cards.

When I tried to buy my computer it took almost four months for the company to figure out how to take my cash. They refused. Credit only. Literal moment of saying to them I had the money and I wanted to give it to them but they didn't want it beeeecaaaaaauuuuuuse?

Same here. Security and the narrowing of payment options freaks me out. It's a cool idea but, wow. Needs work.

Edited at 2016-12-07 05:31 pm (UTC)
Dec. 8th, 2016 03:57 pm (UTC)
The idea of permanently putting payment on my phone does make me nervous. It's true that my credit card, equally as vulnerable, is in my wallet, and my phone requires a code to open, and my debit card is easy to lift from my wallet, but I use my phone more than my wallet, and my phone is more prone to loss or theft.

The move away from cash is definitely problematic. There are plenty of perfectly good reasons to pay in cash. Buying presents leaps to mind. Not wanting to leave a continual record of your purchases with a third party is another. Recently, I advertised some furniture on-line and sold it to a stranger. He paid cash. If he had paid through PayPal or something, we would have had a transaction fee. I don't want that. Cash, thanks.

Last I knew, vendors were required to accept cash as legal tender. Of course, the vendor may not know that, or may deliberately make life difficult for cash people. This is weird, though--credit card companies charge ridiculously high fees, and you'd think vendors would welcome cash.
( 8 comments — Leave a comment )
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