Will This Technological Innovation Change the Way You Shop?

by Jessica Sommerfield · 12 comments

Shopping is becoming increasingly streamlined. We used to think self-checkouts were the cutting edge of technology, but we’ve come a long way since then.

Here are a few examples:

  • Smart carts that will total up your items for you — and even make suggestions based on your choices
  • Restaurants where you can order and pay for your food on a tablet
  • Smartphone checkout apps, which allow customers to purchase items in their stores without ever speaking to a salesperson or going through a traditional checkout line

 So what’s next in the effort to streamline the shopping experience?

Automatic electronic checkout.

Here’s how it works: After you’ve been established as a customer, sensors in the store will identify you by one of your electronic devices. To make a purchase, all you’ll have to do is pick up an item and walk out the door with it (formerly known as shoplifting!). Scanners at the door will pick up the product’s UPC code and automatically charge you using your pre-approved method of payment.

While all of this sounds remarkably convenient (and just plain cool), there are two main concerns:

Will retail workers lose their jobs?

Obviously, if electronic devices were checking customers out (in a consistently more friendly way than some grumpy sales clerks), retailers would need fewer workers to run registers. As with any type of technological advancement, some jobs will become obsolete.

But I, for one, don’t see this happening in retail. There will always be the need — and desire — for some human interaction in the process. Those who choose to do their shopping without ever having to interact with another person will be able to do so, which might mean fewer impatient, complaining customers giving retailers bad reviews. But on the other hand, there will never be 100% participation in this type of technology, so retail jobs will still be required. So yes, this may have an impact on retail jobs, but not a significant one.

Is it secure?

Considering the large-scale security breach that recently endangered the personal information of thousands of Target customers, many people are understandably leery of devices that store and access their financial information. Gaining the trust of clientele may be the biggest hurdle that retailers cross if they wish to incorporate this kind of technology in the future.

The potential for security issues is definitely a problem that will have to be addressed and thoroughly worked out if automatic checkout processes are to become popular. Those who already use similar technology to, say, instantly purchase e-books in a chain store like Barnes & Noble, probably won’t be deterred by taking it to the next level; whereas those who won’t even use their debit cards at the register will be even more leery of paying “invisibly.”

The Bottom Line

Technology is amazing. Just when you think it can’t possibly get any more advanced, something new comes along. By now, we should be used to technology transforming nearly every aspect of our lives, but sometimes there are still things that come as a surprise.

What are your thoughts? Are you a traditionalist who sticks to what you know? Are you distrusting of what seems to be excessive computerization of simple processes?

Or do you embrace the change as yet another way to make your shopping experience easier and faster?

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{ read the comments below or add one }

  • Developments in technology in all its glory, it can be handy sometimes with payment directly at the bar or restaurant table and save time, it also removes the possibility to give the chef or waiter praise for the good food or the service. We will become robots who is running around and trying to save time instead.

  • Last week I’m talking with my friend and it was one of our topics. We are thinking what if there are stores or restaurants where you can order as well as pay for your food on a tablet or a Smartphone? It really sounds exciting, but at the same it’s quite scary thinking about the future of waitress and waiter, can it affect their jobs?

    • Phil says:

      I don’t know. There was a time where humans were replaced by machines in farming. Cows are now milked by machines. The overall long term affect is positive. It frees up the labor force for other pursuits, especially if you have an education.

    • David Ning says:

      Like Phil implied, the move will definitely affect waiters and waitress, but as with everything else, jobs in other sectors will open up. As long as we stay motivated and continue to innovate, the population at large will be okay.

  • I was recently at a Chilis that had a little tablet computer like thing at each table. You could order drinks, deserts, and appetizers through it. You could also pay your bill through it by swiping a credit card so you didn’t have to wait for the waitress to bring a check.

    I thought it was pretty exciting because it saved me a couple of minutes and I am sure it saves the wait staff a little time as well.

    • David Ning says:

      These are amazing, because the worst situation to be in at a restaurant is to want something and not be able to find the waiter/waitress. But if I’m ordering everything and paying all by myself, then they are only delivering the food to my table once. Should tipping still be expected?

  • jim says:

    I don’t like it. Sounds way too “big brotherish” to me. Do you seriously want someone(s) to know that much about you? I don’t.

    • David Ning says:

      It’s hard to avoid being “labeled” these days. You’d have to go out of your way, like always paying with cash, and not having any accounts anywhere for companies not being able to know something about you.

      At least they don’t really identify you personal information by your personal information and merely recommend stuff based on someone like you.

  • I think it sounds cool, but I am one of those who does not even like to use my debit card at stores since the Target hack. I’d want to be pretty strongly convinced that a system like that was secure in order to feel comfortable shopping at those places.

    • David Ning says:

      Unfortunately, I don’t think any system is ever 100% safe. Luckily, we can pretty much guarantee to not lose out as long as we monitor our statements and use a CREDIT card because of the “no liability” policies.

      And since we should monitor our expenses regularly anyway, the hassle of checking shouldn’t be a concern for us who care about our finances.

  • Phil says:

    The article makes me think of several things:

    1. I don’t want to interact with someone at the store. In fact, I don’t even want to be there. I always go for the self checkout stands.

    2. We have been recently using Amazon Prime Pantry. Dried goods are showing up at our door step. Amazon has a way to go to improve their selection, and we still have to go to the store, but see #1 above (we don’t want to be there).

    3. The market is always changing where someone might lose their job. If you are in this position, be proactive instead of reactive. Improve yourself, get a better education, start your own side business, or if you are the type to bemoan the companies that make the changes where people are laid off, then compete against that company and start your own store (this is America!).

    4. Realize this could save the consumer money, time and hassle. Employees are expensive! I know people who own their own business and refuse to grow and hire an employee. It is just too risky, especially in our litigious society. But a machine…well, look at the ATM. It does it’s job well and has never sued anyone.

    • David Ning says:

      I’m the same way in that I always opt for the self checkout line. I like the machines because it’s just sitting there while I figure out how to efficiently pay the least like trying different combinations. Sometimes it’s because I’m flexible with travel dates, while other times it’s simply to fill the cart to meet minimums for free shipping or fixed discounts.

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