A new venture by Amazon continues to provide food for thought – and perhaps an eerie peek at a brave new world.
Beginning next year, Amazon will open its Seattle-based "Amazon Go" grocery store to the public. There are no check-out lines, cashiers, or grocery baggers; using apps and other technology, customers can enter the store, take items off the shelves, and leave with the products; and a receipt will be emailed to the customer. That's it in a nutshell.
Since Monday's announcement, reaction has been pouring in to news outlets covering the story.
"As a consumer of groceries, I think the more people in the sector, the better," says Diana Furchtgott-Roth of the Manhattan Institute. "I want to pay less for groceries – and if Amazon is going to offer a way to do that, then I think that's great."
How would it make groceries cost less? "It could lower prices because it could enable the cost of labor to go down," she answers.
The New York Post calls this effort the "next major job killer to face Americans." In fact, Britt Beemer, president of America's Research Group, is quoted as saying this will eliminate the cashiers, baggers, and many store clerks – potentially wiping out three-quarters of the staff at a typical grocery store.
What does Furchtgott-Roth, a former chief economist at the U.S. Department of Labor, think of that?
"We can't look at technology in terms of the numbers of jobs it might create or destroy," she explains. "I'm sure there were farmers who were upset when tractors came out; and there were grocery store cashiers who were upset when bar codes came out because they wanted the prices on each thing and they didn't want scanners and bar codes."
The more efficient retail industry is, Furchtgott-Roth says the better it is for consumers.
"The more money they'll have in their pockets, they'll go out and buy other kinds of things and jobs will be reorganized," she adds. "It used to be that about 90 percent of Americans were employed in agriculture. But now two percent are employed in agriculture and we make enough food to feed the whole world."
Is this a brave new world that we are entering?
"Well, it's a new form of technology and we want to encourage new forms of technology," she answers. "There have been new forms of technology throughout the existence of the United States and they have generally made our country more prosperous."
For example, Americans moved from the agriculture to the industrial sector.
"We've seen the industrial revolution, we've seen the move to services, and we've seen the move from services to apps," says Furchtgott-Roth. "If it works, people will take it up and others will copy it; and since it's a private-sector project, it'll just disappear if it doesn't work."
Eventually, Amazon hopes to have about the same number of brick-and-mortar grocery stores as Kroger. With 2,800 locations, Kroger is the nation's largest grocery store chain.