Autonomous stores risks to consider before shopping

Anton P. | September 29, 2022

Autonomous stores are the latest craze in retail technology. You walk into a shop, gather the items you want, and leave. While it might be the future shopping experience, its recent debut makes it less stable, private, and secure.

Furthermore, autonomous stores lose one advantage brick-and-mortar businesses offer to an extent: privacy. For security and payment purposes, shoppers must supply identification to enter autonomous shops. Additionally, they might integrate other monitoring technologies for uplifting physical security.

So, let’s examine how autonomous shopping might reinvent the retail industry and what potential risks it opens.

What are autonomous stores?

Amazon Go stores are the most well-known examples of autonomous shopping. In 2018, the first Amazon Go shop opened in Seattle, instantly presenting its unusual structure. It featured subway-like gates that shoppers must pass before gathering groceries. And you won’t find any cashiers, lines, or registers.

Another requirement to enter the store was the Amazon app, which facilitates frictionless shopping. Essentially, visitors scan their Amazon apps with added payment details at the entrance. Then, they pick up their goods, pass the gates, and payments get issued automatically.

So, autonomous shopping is a literal representation of a grab-and-go store. Sensors across the shelves keep track of items you pick or put back. However, you can always check the receipt to determine whether the charges are fair.

Since 2018, many startups have embraced autonomous stores technology. Companies like AiFi supply artificial intelligence-powered systems for building contactless autonomous shopping experiences.

Benefits of autonomous customer experiences

Autonomous stores represent a smarter and quicker alternative to traditional shopping. Of course, consumers have many shopping-related tech innovations at their disposal. For one, you can get anything delivered right to your doorstep.

In other cases, you can fill your virtual basket with goods and simply travel to the store to collect the gathered and bagged goods. However, autonomous shopping exists on an entirely different level.

It combines the easiness of online shopping with brick-and-mortar browsing. The biggest advantages of autonomous stores come from their ability to solve age-old issues of offline shopping:

  • No lines and waiting in queues. Since autonomous stores instantly charge customers, scanning items or taking out your credit card is no longer necessary. Such automation reduces the waiting time to a minimum.
  • Personalized store promotions and deals. Purchases in automated stores get linked to apps, email addresses, and other forms of identification. Thus, customers might receive offers based on their previous grocery lists. Of course, considering the digital privacy variable, it can be both a blessing and a curse.
  • Easier to prevent out-of-stock issues. Autonomous stores track everything that gets picked up and purchased by customers. Thus, determining what items need restocking does not require any human contribution.
  • Automated store operations. Tech innovation simplifies many store-related operations, like boosting supply chain efficiency. Additionally, it is more immune to labor shortages since minimal supervision is necessary.

What technologies make autonomous stores possible?

Traditional physical stores rely on registers, employees, security guards, and cameras. When it comes to autonomous stores, their key ingredient is none other than technology.

From cameras covering most of the ceiling to gates, hardware and software must perform without fault. Essentially, these innovations power up autonomous shopping:

  • An application for customer identification and payment. A special store app is usually the one linked to a payment option.
  • Weighted shelves for keeping inventory. Some autonomous stores could use such shelves to track all their products.
  • Extensive camera network for security. Autonomous shops will have many cameras, significantly more than traditional stores. It monitors customer behavior and detects illegal actions.
  • IP audio solutions for warning customers. Since stores won’t have employees on the floor, voice commands can help navigate customer behavior.
  • Access control devices for preventing unauthorized entry. Gates at the entrance ensure that only customers with required apps and payment methods go inside.

Autonomous stores do not support private shopping

Online shopping is not a privacy-focused activity. For instance, ad networks will likely shape their promotions according to your latest purchases. Some consumers are even willing to drop certain retail brands if they do not deal with user data appropriately.

A common turnoff for clients is the fact that a service provider shares its customer habits with third-party entities. However, evading data-sharing between companies and data brokers is a backbreaking task.

In some cases, it means dropping online shopping experiences and opting for brick-and-mortar stores. However, considering the advanced security technologies, scanners, and apps, autonomous stores do not seem highly privacy-friendly. In fact, they facilitate extensive tracking within the store and beyond.

How do Trigo and Trax algorithms work?

Trigo and Trax algorithms are common AI-based technologies for building autonomous shopping experiences. For instance, Trigo is a unique algorithm that powers cameras seen across such stores. Then, such cameras can analyze customers’ behavior and learn about their shopping habits and movements.

Trax represents a technology consisting of computer vision and machine learning. Robots with this integrated tech monitor autonomous stores, fix common issues and maintain products on shelves.

Such algorithms facilitate extensive collection of clients’ data, from how they navigate the store to what they buy. Just like the Facebook algorithm, autonomous stores use similar tech to learn over time and aid user personalization.

All your purchase habits gathered

A retail giant like Amazon has extensive information about its clients. Autonomous stores could be key for creating even more accurate consumer profiles.

Thus, it could combine the information Amazon has already accumulated from its online services with your habits in physical stores. The more information is readily available about people’s lifestyles, the more opportunities for misuse arise.

An eerie scenario is that your grocery shopping decisions could influence your insurance options. Thus, people could get rewarded for maintaining a healthier lifestyle with better prices. However, consumers buying less healthy products could end up classified in particular risk groups.

According to studies, 69% of consumers would agree to share their lifestyle habits if it meant lower insurance prices. However, such insurance personalization has the potential to be highly intrusive. Furthermore, it would raise the stakes for transparency and responsibility from insurance firms.

Biometric data usage

Amazon One is a device allowing users to pay for their goods in stores using their palms. The dilemma of biometric data is tense as attributes like facial features and fingerprint patterns have become vital for authentication.

While such identity verification is secure, it carries significant risks. For instance, data breaches involving passwords are devastating, but users can change them as frequently as they like.

Leaks of biometric data are much more dangerous as it exposes permanent details you cannot alter.

How criminals could exploit autonomous stores

With such high dependence on technology, autonomous stores have room for error. Hardware or software could fail, hackers could exploit vulnerabilities, or gain access to improperly protected databases.

Phishing scams could imitate autonomous store providers and trick users under false scenarios. For instance, you might receive fraudulent notifications urging you to confirm payments to services like Amazon Go.

Should you shop in autonomous stores?

Autonomous innovations are one of the greatest achievements of this century. However, their unfamiliar operations and privacy/security implications could be enough to reject them.

Until now, physical stores aided relatively private shopping experiences, especially if consumers paid in cash. Autonomous shopping relies on digital payments and requires a decent amount of identity verification.

That can include payment details, email addresses, biometric data, phone numbers, etc. Furthermore, you generate a lot of your purchasing habits beyond online shopping. Thus, more and more data about you gets stored in companies’ databases.

So, keep these things in mind and assess whether autonomous stores are worth the risks.

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Anton P.

Anton P.

Former chef and the head of Atlas VPN blog team. He's an experienced cybersecurity expert with a background of technical content writing.

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