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What Amazon's foray into 'frictionless' retail tells us about human nature

Tim Williams

Initial customer reactions to last week's London opening of a supermarket without tills provides some fascinating insights about customers and trust.

First, the novelty of the concept (and perhaps a latent lack of confidence in technology) left many customers doubting whether they would be billed accurately.

Even more interesting was the way in which some customers were left feeling guilty - as if they couldn’t quite believe that a corporation trusted them enough to let them walk out ‘without paying’.

Finally, those customers who were bowled over by the ease of the experience (the ‘early adopters’) seem to have had no qualms about the fact that this was enabled by the use of sophisticated tracking and surveillance technologies that put Bentham’s panopticon to shame.

All of which raises some interesting questions:

How willing are people to sacrifice privacy for convenience? (Very, it would seem).

What does the absence of the human element mean for customers? Will it cause them to put greater value on human interactions when and where they do occur?

What does this technology mean for the high street generally? Does it herald the end for all ‘brick and mortar’ stores - or will it be their salvation?

But above all, who do I now ask if I can’t find the baked beans?

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