Amazon introduces next major job killer to face Americans
By James Covert, Linda Massarella and Bruce Golding
Amazon on Monday unveiled the latest plan to automate American workers out of existence — a futuristic grocery store without any cashiers.
High-tech sensors and artificial intelligence are allowing shoppers at the Seattle food market to swipe an app when they enter, then roam the aisles and grab staples like bread and milk, artisanal cheeses and chocolates and ready-made meals.
Customers can watch as the items they pluck off the shelves get added to a virtual cart on the app — and subtracted if they put them back — with receipts emailed to them once they leave, according to the company.
Amazon's new grocery store won't have any checkout lines
The 1,800-square-foot Amazon Go store is currently open only to employees of the online retail giant, but the company plans to start letting the public in next year.
Amazon will also test out “large, multifunction stores with curbside pickup capability” and “drive-through prototype locations,” sources told the Wall Street Journal (paywall).
The company wants to open more than 2,000 brick-and-mortar grocery stores, compared with about 2,800 operated by The Kroger Co., now the nation’s largest full-service grocery retailer.
Amazon’s plans mark its latest push into the $800 billion-a-year grocery business, following its AmazonFresh delivery service that began expanding across the country in 2013 and arrived in Brooklyn in late 2014.
It also threatens countless jobs at grocery stores, which are the leading employers of cashiers and had 856,850 on their payrolls in May 2015, according to the latest figures from the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Britt Beamer, president of America’s Research Group, a consumer-behavior research and consulting firm, estimated that Amazon’s cutting-edge technology had the potential to wipe out 75 percent of typical grocery-store staff.
“It’ll be a big job-killer,” Beamer said. “It’ll eliminate the cashier, it’ll get rid of the baggers, it’ll eliminate the stock clerks. This could be big.”
Neil Saunders, managing director of the retail research firm Conlumino, called checkout lines “the most inefficient parts of the store experience,” and said Amazon could both “save a lot on labor costs” and “make the process much quicker for consumers and much more satisfying.”
Saunders said the newfangled shopping method could make people “feel like they stole” an item.
“There is a bit of education needed for consumers,” he said.
An Amazon spokeswoman declined to say how the company planned to prevent shoplifting.
The opening of Amazon Go follows the company’s increasing use of warehouse robots and its heavily hyped scheme to deliver online purchases via a fleet of Prime Air drones, which Amazon predicts will one day “be as normal as seeing mail trucks on the road.”
It also comes amid growing concern over the impact of self-driving vehicle technology on the nation’s 3.5 million truckers, cabbies and other professional motorists.
Speaking on the technological advances at a Capitol Hill hearing last month, Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI) called such driving jobs “a ticket to the middle class” for many people without college degrees.
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“We have to make sure this technology not only enables better productivity, but doesn’t disqualify millions of Americans from good, solid jobs,” Reed warned.
In 2011, President Obama blamed automation for a lack of hiring.
“There are some structural issues with our economy where a lot of businesses have learned to become much more efficient with a lot fewer workers,” he told NBC News.
“You see it when you go to a bank and you use an ATM, you don’t go to a bank teller, or you go to the airport and you’re using a kiosk instead of checking in at the gate,” Obama said.
In New York City, the introduction of MetroCard vending machines led the MTA to eliminate 600 token-booth jobs in 2010, although the workers were all reassigned to other tasks, said Transit Workers Union spokesman Pete Donohue.
Meanwhile, the use of robots and other manufacturing efficiencies were responsible for 88 percent of the 7 million factory jobs the US has lost since peak employment in 1979, according to a study last year by Ball State University’s Center for Business and Economic Research.
James Covert is a reporter for the New York Post.
Additional reporting by Danielle Furfaro