Will Amazon Go's AI put an end to thousands of retail jobs?

Amazon goes AI

Amazon has just launched a retail experience like no other. Customers are now, thanks to AI technology, able to walk in, grab what they want, and walk out. No queues. No checkouts. And, while still in the beta phase of testing, Amazon Go is set to shake things up on a number of levels including business. Tim Dunlop of The Guardian says it’s confirmation that we’re moving from a globalized world of manufacturing giants to a networked one of technology giants. So just what does Amazon’s Go mean for business?

The world’s most advanced shopping technology piggybacks off of the same technology that’s involved in self-driving cars: AI and machine learning. Amazon explains it in their FAQ:

“Our just walk out technology automatically detects when products are taken from or returned to the shelves and keeps track of them in a virtual cart. When you’re done shopping, you can just leave the store. Shortly after, we’ll charge your Amazon account and send you a receipt.”

This progression comes in the wake of a general business trend towards customer service. And the two play off each other: As new technologies enable easier business transactions, customers’ expectations of customer service and sales support increase. Amazon Go is a prime example of the balance between customer and business and falls in the realm of self-service.

It’s into this space that Clickatell’s launched a product that offers users self-service. Clickatell Touch replaces traditional support methods with real-time communication and intelligent workflow automation. This new platform answers the call for self-service, seamlessly connecting businesses to their markets and vice versa, through artificially intelligent channels. And seamless means instant. No more wasting time on hold, listening to fake messages. Customers are connected immediately as and when they need to be.

So is AI set to cut thousands of jobs?

The fear is that self-service retail will usher in a trend where AI systems replace actual people in the workplace, resulting in massive job loss. But, while there are obvious benefits to automated checkouts and a streamlined cashier-less system, it’s important that progress doesn’t coincide with people-less customer experience. People shop for four main reasons:

  • To get what they want.

  • To break up the day.

  • For the experience.

  • And to interact with people.

That last reason is crucial. So, as the technology trends towards automated retail continue to gain traction, businesses need to learn to balance the two: people and AI. While some processes such as checkout might lend themselves to having a machine do all the work, there are others where the human touch is crucial. Because it’s in those spaces that the customer can make an emotional connection to the brand.

The challenge is that waiting in long queues before talking to a tired, surly cashier might not be the best human interaction for a customer to experience. This means that Amazon Go (and those that follow) need to find other ways to provide human interaction. Here are three ways that businesses could incorporate human to human connections:

A concierge service: In almost any setting, customers will appreciate a knowledgeable and approachable employee who can give them key information and provide a touch of warmth in the process.

Greeters: Contact with the customer at the beginning and end of their experience can be invaluable. A positive experience at the start of their retail experience can go a long way in the mind of the customer.

Samplers: Having back-of-house staff on the front-of-house floor offering free samples and otherwise engaging with customers can be a warm, positive experience for customers.

While the future of retail might be far more streamlined and automated thanks to the advances in AI technology, human contact is still as vital as it has ever been. Innovations like Amazon Go need to be handled with kid gloves, noting the frailties of the trend but also nurturing the positives that technology brings. If you’re interested in learning more about other AI trends, read our blog post that demystifies artificial intelligence buzzwords.

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