Amazon’s embrace of brick-and-mortar stores with its purchase of Whole Foods Markets WFM, +29.10% could increase automation in the retail sector — and workers should take note.
As of now, Amazon’s AMZN, +2.44% intentions when it comes to Whole Foods remain to be seen. But recently the e-commerce giant has been toying with different brick-and-mortar concepts. Just last month, Amazon opened its first store in New York City, called Amazon Books. And near its Seattle headquarters, Amazon has introduced a number of different takes on traditional retail stores, including drive-up grocery stores.
The idea that Amazon could use Whole Foods as a platform to fuel automation in retail should be a scary one to retail workers. The most common job in the workforce today is a retail salesperson — there are nearly 5 million of them employed currently. Being a cashier is another popular job, accounting for more than 3 million workers. Currently, retail sales jobs are expected to increase 7% between 2014 and 2024, while the number of cashiers is only predicted to go up 2%, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
But a recent study from the University of Oxford found that these jobs have over a 90% chance of becoming automated.
More than half (53%) of tasks in retail were automatable, a report released in July 2016 from managing consulting firm McKinsey & Company calculated. “There was a great fear among retailers, particularly grocery retailers, that someone like an Amazon will come in, automate and reduce the number of employees needed to work in stores,” said Britt Beemer, chairman and founder of consumer research firm America’s Research Group. “Now look who we’ve got as a competitor.”
“Much like Amazon Books, Whole Foods will be become a laboratory for new and unexpected interactions with mobile obsessed consumers,” said Stephan Schambach, founder and CEO of mobile retail platform NewStore, noting that Whole Foods already accepts Apple Pay and has many customers who use smartphones. “The ability to produce a frictionless shopping experience will set the bar not only for ecommerce, but also physical retailers,” Schambach added.
Among the concepts Amazon has rolled out is Amazon Go. Currently, there is one Amazon Go store in Seattle open to the company’s employees in a Beta program. At this store, shoppers must have the Amazon Go app, and the store’s “Just Walk Out” technology detects what products they have taken from shelves. When they’re doing getting what they need, customers just leave the store, and then Amazon charges their Amazon account for whatever items they leave with. These stores could operate with as few as three employees at a time, according to the New York Post.