You’re in the grocery store comparing tomato soup, plucking one can and then another from the shelf. Suddenly, your phone dings. A coupon for Campbell’s pops up. What just happened? Cashier-less stores are coming. They could mean “goodbye” to checkout lines, but will they also signal privacy problems?
No one likes waiting. Merchants know it; consumers know it. Naturally, retailers want to help shoppers buy goods without lines or salespeople. Doing so will save time and money—for both merchants and customers.
In the United States, tech giant Amazon has opened 10 cashier-less Amazon Go convenience stores. The stores sell ready-made food, toiletries, and basic groceries. Shoppers scan an app with a smartphone to enter the store. They grab items they want, and simply walk out. Cameras and sensors on the ceiling track what’s taken and automatically charge credit or debit cards as shoppers leave.
They also send an alert revealing time spent in the store. Tom Hadfield bought a Coke Zero in a minute and five seconds. It reminded him of his first Uber ride: “You just know it’s going to be the future.”
“I like the idea of being able to come into a store, grab what you want, and just walk out,” says Tomonori Nishimura. His go-to grab-and-go snack? Funyuns.
With 400-700 customers per day per Amazon Go store, analysts expect sales could reach twice that of a typical U.S. convenience store. “Once a few big retail chains begin to deploy this technology, it’s going to snowball,” says Michael Suswal, co-founder of another cashier-less technology business.
For some, cashier-less technology raises red flags. Experts worry that customer data—including the ability to match faces with personal data—could fall into the wrong hands. Peter Trepp runs a facial recognition company. He calls the ever-present cameras in a cashier-less store “creepy.” Christians know that “the eyes of the LORD are in every place, keeping watch on the evil and the good.” (Proverbs 15:3). Still, many dislike the idea of cameras in every corner.
So far, companies are finding ways around facial recognition. Most systems identify objects instead of people. They use smartphone apps to identify who’s entering the store and to process the sale.
As cashier-less stores become more common, some people worry about discriminating against consumers without bank accounts and credit cards. They believe stores should still offer an option to pay by cash.
“Within five years, I think just about everyone will have experienced what autonomous checkout is like,” predicts Suswal. “And within 10 years, regular checkout stands will be very rare.”