Amazon is starting to open brick and mortar stores, and if the New York Post’s sources are to believed, the online giant’s plans for sprawling supermarkets don’t involve many humans. According to the paper, the stores will employ no more than ten people while the rest of the work will be done by robots, netting Amazon a huge profit. Amazon’s CEO Jeff Bezos says that’s crazy talk — literally.
“Whoever your anonymous sources are on this story… they’ve mixed up their meds!” Bezos tweeted on Tuesday, two days after the initial New York Post article.
That article, which cites anonymous sources, was very suspicious of Amazon’s plans, which it has referred to as “jobs killers” on more than one occasion. The supermarket — the next evolution of the company’s Amazon Go stores — will be between 10,000 and 40,000 square feet in size. The ground floor will be full of produce and other foods that customers like to touch and examine. A fleet of robot workers on the floor above work behind-the-scenes to select and bag shoppers’ other selections.
Sources told the Post that Amazon plans on having no more than ten human employees working on a shift at any given time — and it’s possible that some stores would only need three flesh and blood workers to run the market with a little robot help. Humans would have very specific jobs like restocking shelves or manning a drive-thru booth for consumers on the go.
“Amazon will utilize technology to minimize labor,” a source told the Post, which later claims in the article that Amazon is expecting profit margins exceeding 20 percent — far above the industry average of 1.7 percent.
On Twitter, Bezos said this was bullshit. “If anybody knows how to get 20 percent margins in groceries, call me!” he wrote in a second tweet, signing it with a cute little :) emoticon.
Aside from calling the Post’s sources into doubt, Bezos didn’t specify what, exactly, was right or wrong with the paper’s story. Job loss due to automation isn’t exactly a popular topic, so there’s reason to believe that Bezos might be trying to save face by criticizing the story, even with a cheeky tone. Of course, there’s also reason to be a little skeptical of anonymous sources, so it’s hard to know what’s really going on with Amazon’s supermarket plans.
The truth is, though, that even if Bezos is right, and the Post is being inflammatory and hyperbolic, automation is coming, and it’s going to cost jobs. There’s no point in denying it.
As Barack Obama said in his last interview as president during an appearance on the podcast Pod Save America, “automation is relentless and it’s going to accelerate.”
“You saw just what happened to retail store sales this past Christmas,” he continued. “Amazon and online sales is killing traditional retail, and what’s true there is going to be true throughout our economy.”
So, even if the Bezos says the Post’s version of Amazon supermarkets sounds like crazy talk, it’s not really that crazy.