An Amazon employee works in a logistic site of the...

An Amazon employee works in a logistic site of the U.S. online sales giant. Credit: DENIS CHARLET/AFP/Getty Images

As someone who spends an hour a week screaming “I already bagged the kosher pickles!” and “What do you mean, what kind of cucumber?” at the self-checkout kiosks of my Medford grocer, I met the news that Amazon is creating fully grab-and-go grocery stores with a mixed reaction — terror mixed with rage.

The company just announced it’s created an 1,800-square-foot store in Seattle called Amazon Go.

For now, it’s for employees only as the company works out the kinks. The plan is to let people walk in, shop and walk out without having to check out. Apparently, sensors and codes and apps and voodoo will be used to figure out who you are and what you grabbed, charging you automatically as you skip joyously out of the store.

It seems like a really great idea — but also a really terrible one. This seems to be the case with every major technological advance of late; big advantages come with big headaches.

Take, for instance, those grocery store self-checkouts. In theory, they’re great, particularly if you’re just running in for trash bags, six pints of Ben and Jerry’s and a two-liter of Dr. Brown’s Diet Black Cherry Soda. Why wait in a long line full of and staffed by human-type people when you can just zip through?

But you can’t zip through. For one thing, the store now only has one line staffed by a human. The befuddled father in front of you at one self-check has two full carts of death-by-preservatives to ring up. The grandmother at the other open self-check is pretty sure the radishes were 69 cents a pound, not 89. The remaining six self-check kiosks are turned off or out of order or “Dude, no idea.” The young man in charge of resetting them after every third item results in a malfunction and saying, “Dude, no idea,” is seriously involved in chewing bubble gum and flirting with that one human checker.

The technology can save stores money, but also alienate and infuriate customers. Some chains, like Costco and Albertsons, have largely eliminated the kiosks in favor of staffed lines after finding they hurt the customer experience too much.

It’s easy to imagine an Amazon Go experience as even more frustrating:

  • Store won’t let you enter because your Amazon Go is on your wife’s account, not yours. You have to text her for info, delete and reinstall the app. Outside. In the pouring rain.
  • App is reinstalled under wife’s account, and in you go, but an alarm on your phone sounds when you pick up six pints of Chubby Hubby. Apparently, she set up the account so all Ben and Jerry’s purchased must be Chunky Monkey.
  • After picking up $99 chocolate gift basket to muse at the ridiculousness of such a thing, then returning it, the purchase still shows up on your phone read-out. Each attempt to make its replacement register by picking it up and emphatically returning it adds another $99 to the tab until it totals $891. Attempts to get the attention of the gum-smacking customer service bot flirting with the android that checks the IDs of alcohol purchasers are fruitless.
  • Your wife texts, wondering why she just got an Amazon alert asking whether she bought $891 of chocolate, to which she is allergic, but in her words, “That trollop Cheryl in accounting is really going to love, you heel.” You try to explain the situation away by pointing out that a wife, above all people, should know how much of a consistent shopping disaster you are, but she’s having none of it. Then, in a jealous fury, she reports you for having stolen her app access.
  • Robocops appear with guns blazing, empowered via recent legislation signed by President Jeff Bezos to shoot on sight.

That’s progress for you.

Lane Filler is a member of the Newsday editorial board.


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