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Major retailers turn to automation in Amazon-era

Amazon (AMZN) might have flagged it off, but retailers such as Walmart (WMT) and Kroger (KR) are following suit, experimenting with new technologies like mobile scanning and even robots at various locations. Not only does this free up employees for better customer service, but the move also shows how big names are moving towards technology to stay relevant in the post-Amazon retail universe.

Bezos opened a new chapter with its Amazon Go stores with no checkout lines designed to bump up the convenience of shoppers. There is no doubt that Amazon keeps pulling new tricks almost every day out of its bag to lure customers into its platform either by providing lucrative offers or maximizing the convenience factor.

Now in an increasing attempt to compete with this megalodon, retailers are looking to increase store automation. In other words, make it easier for customers to walk in, pick up their purchases, make payments and walk out of the store with minimum intervention and hurdles.

Automated checkout technology, which takes cashiers out of the picture, is gaining prominence as it seeks to do away with long queues.

Other kinds of technologies like computer vision, sensors, cameras and facial recognition are being tested in many places and could soon become common.

This trend of automation comes with two main concerns, the first one being jobs. The threat to retail jobs from increasing automation is a hot subject for debate. The industry has already seen several job cuts due to store closures and bankruptcies. However, big retailers claim that automation does not pose as severe a threat as being made out to believe. They say it simply gives a chance to divert employees into new jobs from existing mundane ones.

There is also a theory that store automation works most effectively in small stores and it would not be as practical or efficient in big stores and warehouses. At least, not shortly. It will be a while before we cross that bridge.

The second concern is around data privacy. With a lot of automation comes a lot of consumer data, and this opens the window to the topic of safeguarding customer data and surveillance on customer activity. And the latest allegations Facebook is facing looming in the back of everyone’s mind, it is only natural that such a concern crops up.

New technology has always faced a mental barrier throughout the history of humankind. This latest shift in the retail model could well be a start to a new revolution in the way we buy and use things.

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