Opinion: Amazon Go – the iceberg of mass unemployment looms.

Amazon Go is the latest attempt by an e-commerce and software services company to enter the physical world. (Like Tron, but backwards).

The Amazon Go concept is a retailer (grocer in this instance), where you walk in, grab what you want and Just Walk Out™ (JWO) again. The amount is debited from your bank card automatically and you can make your purchases and leave without suffering the hiatus of the checkout line. However, if you don’t have an Amazon account, with a linked payment method – you’re unable to shop in an Amazon Go store.

This is where things become a little speculative. America currently employs 7.8 million retail salespeople and cashiers. Europe has an estimated 18.6 million retail jobs (Institute of Retail Management). The JWO technology puts all of these positions at risk in the future. What is more difficult to determine is the extent of the knock-on effects to businesses such as cash-in-transit, cash processing, teller banking and even the delivery trade. These businesses will see huge cuts as technology makes it more convenient for businesses to cut costs and reduce staffing levels.

Looking at the concept of cashless payment in isolation, whilst it appears convenient, it is a libertarian nightmare. At it’s most reductionist, you are agreeing to sacrifice your privacy in order to forego a few minutes waiting in line and a human interaction, in exchange for some convenience. To some, this won’t matter, but by eliminating cash from the payment space, we become dependent on banks who will scrutinise and grant permission for every transaction to be processed. That represents a curtailing of personal freedoms.

To the author’s way of thinking, cash is a great leveller. It provides us with convenience, anonymity (if desired), does not require electricity and it is accepted nearly everywhere (except hipster coffee bars). There will always be a place for cash and the benefits it offers.