Tracking Your Every Move as You Shop

Close up on the Amazon Go store sign at the downtown Seattle Amazon headquarters

In Superconnected, Mary Chayko discusses how the internet has revolutionized the retail industry. She mentions Amazon’s efforts to make online grocery shopping successful.

“The largest share of online revenue in the United States is generated in retail shopping, with Amazon the top vendor…Some businesses have not translated to e-commerce as well as others, but due to the large profits possible, innovations to them are being explored. For example, grocery shopping, which as of 2014 had not found major success online, seems to have a brighter future in e-commerce. Amazon is fronting the cost of an expensive delivery infrastructure, without which the business could not take off, and customers are getting used to the idea of buying fresh food online. It takes both a technological and a psychological shift for some businesses to succeed.” (p. 169)

It’s interesting to note that Amazon just opened a cashier-less grocery store in Chicago this week. This is the fourth Amazon Go store and the first outside of Seattle. It’s in the same building as Amazon’s Chicago office.

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The Chicago Tribune posted a video of a high-speed walk around the store. In the video, you can see the store’s slogan: “Just Walk Out Shopping.” There is no cashier or self-checkout stations.

Customers use their smartphones to scan an app on their way into the store. From there, hundreds of video cameras and infrared sensors in the ceiling track shoppers as they move around and pick up merchandise, which is monitored by weight sensors. Items are added to a virtual shopping cart as customers take them off the shelves.

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Chayko warns about data privacy in e-commerce, “…data mining and surveillance should be kept in mind. Consumers and companies alike should be aware of the implications of widespread sharing on people’s privacy and safety and of the (in)security of data in online spaces.”

Depositphotos_40145553_m-2015An article in the Washington Post quotes Alvaro Bedoya, the executive director of the Center on Privacy & Technology at Georgetown University’s law school, saying it’s highly likely that Amazon Go collects more information than any other retailer setting today.

There’s also concern about the effect of cashier-less stores on jobs. Bloomberg reports that Amazon is considering opening up to 3,000 Amazon Go stores in the next three years. The Washington Post points out that being a cashier is America’s second-most common job according to federal data. About 3.5 million Americans are cashiers.

The Chicago Tribune reported that at the Amazon Go in Chicago there are several employees who answer questions, help customers download the app, find their receipt on the app, restock shelves, and check photo IDs of those buying alcohol.

I’m looking forward to visiting Amazon Go. As a tech enthusiast, I’m willing to give up some privacy for the convenience and novelty. And, now that I know there are cameras and sensors tracking my every move, I’ll be sure to be on my best behavior.

Posted on September 21, 2018, in Social Media. Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

  1. Hi Angie,
    I find these cashierless stores very interesting! Since this is fairly new, I wonder how effective they are against efforts to shoplift. They might actually be more secure than traditional stores because of the heavy surveillance and the way they keep track of merchandise. I wonder if traditional stores will use some of this technology to help keep their stores more secure.
    Thank you for this interesting post!

  2. That’s an interesting point. Given that customers have to use their app to walk into the store and are tracked the whole time, there is less chance that someone can walk out without paying for an item. The security benefits and loss prevention are useful aspects of this system to consider. Thanks Lisa.

  3. Angie,

    Oh my! I never knew this existed. That just seems so – 1984. Haha.

    My home is located in the mountains of NE Tennessee and we have to make an hour drive to go to any of the nearby cities that surround us on all sides. My husband and I have been toying with the idea of using some of the online grocery shopping to supplement and ultimately make our trips out of town less frequent as gas prices so often fluctuate. We have not taken that leap just yet, but we are close.

    I am a “cat lady” (I refuse to say “crazy”) – we have a total of six between or indoor and outdoor cats and we also have one dog. Several years ago, one of our indoor cats had to be put on a special food because he has bladder blockages that can be life threatening. Our dog also has to eat special food because he is a Cocker Spaniel and his allergies are probably the worst I have ever seen in an animal and have continued to worsen as he has aged. It became easier, and more cost effective, to begin ordering the foods and even the huge boxes of cat litter from Chewy on Autoship rather than to try to make it to local vet offices (in the towns that are an hour away – we have no real Vet in our town) when we run low. It has worked out well for us. I know when to expect the charges and the heavy boxes and bags are delivered directly to my doorstep! It has been wonderful.

    I do wonder how in the world this amazon store can be accurate. I would worry about privacy but also – what if I pick up an item and sit it back down. Gosh that seems like a lot of work. And what if someone walks in and doesn’t scan the sign or app? Is there a way for amazon to detect that and realize this person is not “registered” to shop?

    Next thing we know, we will be passing George Jetson in our space cars!


    • Hi Rebecca,

      I read that Amazon Go uses multiple systems to track merchandise and verify purchases. One system tracks your hand movements. Another keeps track of inventory with sensors on the shelves as well as the products themselves. All of this data is combined and used to figure out if you are holding a product or you put it back on the shelf.

      As for not swiping, I wonder if an alarm goes off. I’ll have to scout it out and let you know! I may wait a while before I check it out because I hear there are long lines of people waiting to get into the store which was designed to make shopping fast. Ironic.

      Thanks for your comment.


  4. Angie, great application of a recent innovation–Amazon Go–to our course readings. As you say, it’s likely to be more of a convenience than burden for many. Somehow I’m making a connection to another service though–sites like I realize many enjoy learning about their family tree but I’ve always wondered what privacy policies are in place for all of the DNA samples that are sent in. And then I saw this:

    What?!?! I guess I can understand the notion of “encouraging [Ancestry’s] audience to explore the soundtrack of their heritage,” but I feel these services in combination are taking technology too far. Spotify already has great algorithms in place based on your interests, but now your culture too?

  5. Hi Dr. Pignetti,

    Creating a music playlist on Spotify is a crazy use of DNA. The manual entry method seems like the best approach.

    I actually did send my DNA to Ancestry. You have to spit more than you’ve ever spit before in a big plastic tube, next you twist a cap that releases a blue preservative into your spit, then you ship it to Ancestry. It was a lot of fun getting my results. They were just what I thought they would be…Ireland/Scotland (45%), English (35%), European Jewish (18% Ancestry treats Jewish heritage like an ethnicity or nationality), Norway (2%). Now, I celebrate St. Patrick’s Day even more than I did before.

    The company claims your results are confidential, but I have seen several news reports lately about police detectives getting search warrants to find DNA matches to evidence at crime scenes, even familial matches. It’s a strange thought…even if I never do anything illegal, one of my family members could, and my DNA would help put them behind bars.

    Thanks for your comment!


    • Interesting point about the family members. I think if it just told me about my own ancestry I would be fine, but did you receive a family tree with it too? A friend of mine did and anyone else from his family that did the test was also listed. Long story short, they discovered a sister that no one knew about, not even their father. Things are ok now but it was quite the drama for a few months!

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