Have you checked out one of those Amazon Go stores yet? They launched in early 2018 and have been slowing spreading around the country. (You probably need to live near a large city to do so. There isn’t one within five hours of my home, so I haven’t tested the system personally.) I always found a bit of irony in the idea that the company that’s arguably done more to drive brick and mortar stores out of business than anyone else is dumping massive amounts of money into opening brick and mortar stores.

The big hook in marketing this concept is that there are no cashiers at the Amazon Go stores. You walk in, open an app on your phone, swipe the screen above a scanner, grab whatever you want and leave. The system tracks your every move, cameras see which items you pick up (or put down) and your Amazon account is billed after you leave. Yeah… that’s not creepy at all. But is this really a good way to run a business? I’ll get to that in a moment.

In any event, Amazon must be happy with the results so far. They’ve just announced that they are expanding the number of store locations massively over the next couple of years. (The Verge)

Amazon is reportedly planning a big expansion for its cashierless store format in 2020.

According to Bloomberg, the retail giant wants to open both larger supermarkets and smaller pop-up stores as early as the first quarter of 2020, both using the same Amazon Go technology that creates a shopping experience without any checkout lines. Bloomberg notes that this expansion could include Amazon licensing its technology to rival retailers, some of which have been investing in cashierless tech of their own.

Before I get to a couple of issues I see with this technology, you’re invited to check out this brief video from the company depicting just how the shopping experience is supposed to work.

One of the first things that came to my mind upon hearing about a store where you just “pick things up and go” was the probability that somebody without an Amazon account might take that invitation literally. What do they do about potential shoplifters? The huge array of cameras can supposedly detect every product you pick up, but if you didn’t sign in with the app (or don’t have an account) they can’t bill you.

That should probably have been more of a concern to the company. Within three hours of the first store opening last year, a reporter had managed to shoplift a container of yogurt. The response from Go VP Gianna Puerini, speaking to CNBC, wasn’t exactly inspiring confidence. She said, “First and foremost, enjoy the yogurt on us.” She then went on to say that “accidental shoplifting happens so rarely that we didn’t even bother building in a feature for customers to tell us it happened.”

Not for nothing, lady, but not all shoplifting is “accidental.” But I suppose they must not be running into too much of it or they wouldn’t still be opening new stores.

The other issue I see with this type of shopping is that it’s so easy to lose track of how much you are spending. Perhaps that’s a feature rather than a bug in Amazon’s approach, but there’s got to be such a thing as making shopping “too easy.” It’s already far too simple to be sitting around in the evening after a couple of beers, browsing on your laptop and winding up ordering something you don’t even remember when it shows up at your door. (Or, so I’ve heard… *cough*)

Even when you factor in the overall creepiness of hundreds of cameras in the ceiling monitoring your every step, however, I guess there still aren’t enough issues here for me to oppose the technology entirely. If people are happy shopping this way and Amazon is making money and creating jobs, so be it. And yes, there are still people working there. Somebody has to make the sandwiches and restock the shelves… at least until they bring in robots to do it.