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Shopping With/Without The Cashier At The Billing Counter

Analysing Amazon Go concept stores- Do they really deliver on seamless shopping?

New findings that set us thinking

Previously on the Young Writers’ Club, the teen members had several questions about payments, competition and inventory management. We began our discussion with answers to all those questions. In the process, we talked briefly about how credit card payments work and how competition in this space says something about this concept picking up. Turns out that technology companies that develop sensory and video capture technologies such as CCTV are keen on partnering with grocery stores such as Amazon Go and Carrefour. Although almost all of us were skeptical about the concept, published reports suggest that a combination of offline and online shopping is generally preferred. Physical retail stores are here to stay.

If this concept is likely to grow into a more common concept in the future, then…

The latest findings led us to accept the real possibility of cashier less stores. But it did not deter us from thinking even harder and raising many more questions. Questions went up on the whiteboard and together we tried figuring out the right answers to all of them.

Would there be anyone there to help when we are looking for something specific? Videos of the concept show Amazon employees on the store and hence it is possible that there will be help.

“There must be a help desk somewhere to help people. Not everyone is tech savvy and it is highly possible that there is a help desk to help people.”

“How about using the app to locate the right aisle for any specific product that one is looking for? Is that possible?”

The concept requires the individual to scan the code using the phone. What happens when people shop as families?

“Does every family member need to scan to shop? That may be less possible. How about children? They could take stuff off the shelves, how does the app know whose account the products needed to be added to? A cashier at the billing counter gives the individual another chance to check the purchases and not end up billing something that he/she doesn’t plan on buying. But in a cashier less system, chances are high that we may get billed something that we did not buy.”

“Could they be using AI and CCTV cameras to track who buys what and ensure right billing?”

“They could be using facial recognition that could take place when the family enters the store. Perhaps they keep track of the faces to prevent wrong billing.”

“Isn’t that an invasion of privacy?”

“It almost feels like a simple shopping experience has turned out to be an experience that violates privacy, making me feel uncomfortable about shopping in such a store. I would rather shop at the local store or even better buy online instead of having technology record facial features of myself and the others in my family to ensure that we don’t get billed wrongly. It seems like a lot of work for something as simple as grocery shopping.”

Is sensory technology being used to prevent theft?

The Amazon Go video shows the customer taking and replacing a cup cake. The change is reflected in the shopping list on the app.

“What if someone devious thinks of ways to cheat the system? Perhaps grab something, eat it and then deny buying it?”

“CCTV cameras are in place and could grab a pic!”

“How good is the CCTV footage? We often see many instances in movies when CCTV footage doesn’t help.”

“Someone could try keeping something of equal weight for the sensory technology to record as product returned to the shelf. How can these kind of malpractices be prevented?”

“There might be some sort of an alert. But what happens when an alert is sounded?”

“Speaking of facial recognition, what if the customer is masked or wears a hijab? It becomes almost impossible for facial recognition to work.”

What happens if there is overcrowding at one aisle? How will facial recognition work?

“How about motion censors? These could send an alert when an out of the ordinary event occurs.”

“Perhaps this could be followed by a recorded instruction requesting people to move?”

Warning! You could be buying more than what you need!

“Often when I shop, I tend to pick up a lot of stuff. The decision making happens at the billing counter if I need to buy all of that or not. But in an Amazon Go store concept, I might just pick stuff and walk out without even realising how much I have spent.”

“Would there be a way to return unwanted purchases?”

“Amazon has us used to seamless returns and exchanges. Could a physical store too allow returns and exchanges?”

“If yes, there isn’t a cashier. So, one would have go looking for help. Again perhaps there would be a helpdesk.”

“Isn’t it a lot easier and less time consuming online?”

Whether this concept would successfully take off, is something that only time can tell. For now, it seems like this concept is still nascent in the U.S, U.K and India as well. If the pace of expansion is a tell, our worries and concerns at the Young Writers’ Club could be valid ones. We don’t have definitive answers to some of our questions but it is definite that we at the Young Writers’ Club are on the case.

Seamless experience for the customers is the objective behind this concept. Next week, we would be looking at the retail stores’ perspective. Is this concept of any use to retail stores? Does it make their operations a lot smoother? Stay tuned to find out.


Note from the facilitator: My role was that of a scribe, documenting the discussion apart from the key role which is ensuring that everyone gets a chance to speak and to be heard. Times, when the group needed a little direction, leading questions were raised and at other times critical information based on extensive research was provided to work with.


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