Robots + grocery stores = creepy.
I have complicated feelings about the new Amazon grocery store that’s currently in beta testing.
On the one hand, I am a dedicated online shopper and the thought of having to make small talk with a cashier who would rather be binging on Netflix right now is pretty unappealing.
The Amazon grocery store is designed so that you never have to. All you do, is tap your phone on your way in, like tapping on with an Opal card, and then your purchases are tracked through the free Amazon app. When you take something off the shelf, it’s added to your bill, and if you put it back, it’s taken off again.
And when you’ve stocked up on milk, bread and the evening’s supply of wine and chocolate you just – walk out.
Which is super cool. I hate grocery store lines and I hate self-checkouts with volume settings that seem to swing between silent and “HEY EVERYONE, THIS IDIOT’S PUT SOMETHING UNEXPECTED IN THE BAGGING AREA” without anything in between.
But on the other hand, it makes me kind of nervous, for a couple of reasons.
First, I grew up in a world where high school English students were force fed George Orwell’s 1984, and we all watched Will Smith fight for his life against a robot horde who were genuinely just trying to help.
So this kind of technology, while undoubtedly cool, has some serious ominous overtones, and I don’t know how I feel about Amazon’s robots knowing how often I buy toilet paper, ice cream or microwave dinners for one.
It also makes me nervous because I head to the grocery store with a very strict budget worked out in my head. Now, I’m usually pretty good at sticking to a budget – but with the promise that I can pick up whatever I want from the baked goods section and simply walk out, I have to wonder how long my self-restraint will last.
Obviously, the food is not free. The app charges your Amazon account for everything you buy. But I can ignore that. If I so choose, I can continue with my life, blissfully unaware of exactly how much is being charged to my account. Out of sight, out of mind.
If I don’t have to pony up the dough at the end of a shopping trip, or at least flick my debit card at the PayPass reader, chances are those groceries are going to feel free. And what if they expand this payment method into other shops? Clothes shops, book shops, or God forbid, Priceline?
Honestly, my frugal intentions can only take so much.
Let me know in the comments: do you spend more when you’re not making a physical payment? And, how do you feel about Amazonian robots tracking how often you buy family-sized blocks of Cadbury (i.e. way too often)?