Amazon Fresh store: cashless, cashierless, and creepy
To shop in an Amazon Fresh store is to enter a commercial equivalent of the Panopticon, an all-seeing system of prison surveillance designed by Jeremy Bentham in the 18th century.
The company, somewhat creepily, knows exactly what you have selected during your trip through what it vaguely describes as a combination of “computer vision, algorithms and sensor fusion”. There are no obvious cameras following you as you shop, but customers are most definitely being tracked.
“Anything they take off the shelf is automatically added to their virtual cart, and anything they put back on the shelf comes out of their virtual cart,” Amazon explained in a statement.
After you leave the supermarket, the credit card linked to your Amazon account is automatically billed for your purchases.
The experience takes a bit of getting used to. At the end of my shop I realised that I had, operating on the basis of habit, unnecessarily put all my items into a basket. I could simply have put them straight into my reusable bag and walked out the door.
I also had no idea how much money I had spent during the visit.
But the technology is undeniably impressive. After returning home I checked my Amazon account and saw that my credit card had been accurately charged – right down to the single plum I picked up.
Privacy rights groups are concerned about Amazon’s intense tracking of customers, and what the company will do with all the data it is amassing.
Meanwhile, unions are worried about a loss of jobs. Employees are still needed to stack the shelves and assist customers, but Amazon Fresh’s lack of check-outs means that fewer staff members are required than a regular supermarket.
The company has not announced any plans to launch in Australia. But what feels like a “bizarro world” experience right now may well be just a regular trip to the shops in the not-too-distant future.
Get a note direct from our foreign correspondents on what’s making headlines around the world. Sign up for the weekly What in the World newsletter here.