AI provides automation!
Self-Check Lines at Vons
Have you tried the Self-Check line at the grocery store? One of my first experiences at the Self-Check line was buying a bottle of wine at Vons in Arcadia. I discovered, “You can’t do that because someone needs to check your ID.” Aha! So it’s not all automated. Still need for some human interaction.
In fact, when Amazon opened their “cashier-less grocery store” in Seattle, this January, the busiest spot in the store was the “back corner where a guy was stationed to check customers’ ID before they grabbed a bottle of Pinot Grigio or a six pack of beer (Amazon’s cashier-less Seattle grocery store).”
The Magic of AmazonGo
But that’s because in the AmazonGo store, people walk in, take whatever they want and walk out. Nobody bothers them in the store or – oddly enough – leaving the store. What’s the magic that allows this? Technology!
First, they can’t get in unless they have the AmazonGo smartphone app installed so that they can be identified as they enter. (The entry gate opens when you scan the QR code.) Then hundreds of regular and infrared cameras on the ceiling (black on black so they blend in), computer-vision algorithms and machine learning all work together to figure out who you are, what you selected and charge you for it on a credit card connected to your Amazon account. Simple! Sort of.
Even for Amazon it is experimental. For the year prior (2017) the guinea pigs were employees at Amazon’s headquarters. They bought simple things: plastic-wrapped sandwiches, chips and yogurt. But behind the scenes research has refined the data that has allowed this interesting AI focused approach to shopping.
The next step is to make AmazonGo common everywhere. Other stores are trying to get there. But AmazonGo has internal systems support and financial backing. This is a strong start that will likely make Amazon the industry leader in this service area also.
Is there a negative side to this advance in technology? Always, there is. This time it has to do with that small bit of social interaction with the cashier at the end of your grocery run.
So no interaction with fellow-shoppers. They are all busy with their smart phones. And when you are ready to check out… you don’t check out, you walk out. No interaction at all. The folk at Vons know me. Not by name, of course. But that small interaction at the payment point is enjoyable.
The Tempting Trade-off
On the other hand, we’re talking no wait because no lines! The trade-off is tempting. Perhaps after several months of a cashierless store I would prefer the human interaction. Even at the cost of a long line! What about you?