The Brave New World of Grocery Shopping

“No son, I don’t know what ‘smartphone app’ or ‘digital billing’ mean.”

The changes keep on coming. Stores offer self-checkout machines; online ordering and home delivery systems are popular; and Alexa can check your fridge and send in your order.

Now a newly opened Amazon market does away with checkout procedures. Using hundreds of ceiling-mounted cameras and electronic sensors, the store tracks customers and the items they select. Purchases are billed to customer credit cards when they leave the store. Alcohol purchases will mean ID checks and–at this stage anyway–human interaction, but the system is built mainly on a grab-and-go concept.

This “Just Walk Out” system uses “computer vision, deep learning algorithms, and sensor fusion.”  It also assumes the premise that many people want to shop quickly with minimal human contact. For you visual learners, this article includes lots of photos of the new store, and this writer gives personal insights as he tries out the system.

Pointed comments have come out from some: “Is this really necessary?” “Doesn’t this just add to our social isolation?” “Doesn’t  ‘just walk out’ sound a bit too much like a shoplifter’s mission statement?” The satirical Onion site said, “This is going to put a lot of self-checkout robots out of work.”

“Just Walk Out” Ain’t So New
But maybe this tech isn’t so new after all. During the 1960s, the local grocers in our tiny Midwest farm town had a “Chat and Just Walk Out” system. Farmers and townies would fill carts, stop at the Mom-and-Pop checkout till, gossip while the items were registered, and then walk out without paying–it was all put “on the tab” until the end of the month. 

My ten-year-old brother tried his own “just walk out” once. He placed a candy bar and bottle of Coke on the counter, grabbed the universal check pad that folks used back then, and wrote out a personal check for the amount. He walked out not realizing that you actually had to have a bank account to write a check. The grocery store “Mom” just added it to the family tab, knowing the incident would lead to some interesting conversations and a financial learning experience. 

Grocery stores used to be community gathering spots, but nowadays most folks want convenience and speed. A few might miss the human interaction a store once provided, but technology can fill that need too. Maybe shoppers will access “GroceryGossip” or “DigitalSmileInEveryAisle” apps to hold a meaningful conversation with a screen. That will keep them happy until they get home where Alexa will ask, “Do you want to hear a joke about shopping?”

by dan gogerty (bottom photo from

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