Tag Archives: shopping

Would You Shop At A Store Run Entirely By Robots?

Will Smart Machines Kill Jobs or Create Better Ones? - The Washington Post

Recall the last time you went to the store. It doesn’t matter if it was your corner grocery store or some big box department store. All that matters is you went there to do some basic shopping, as we all end up having to do at some point. With that in mind, try and remember how many store clerks you saw.

Maybe some were working at cash registers.

Maybe some were stocking shelves.

Maybe some were sweeping floors or cleaning up messes.

The chances are you saw at least several. I remember seeing at least three the last time I went to a grocery store. That’s fairly typical. I know I used to see more before the days of self check-out lines, but I always saw people working at these stores, diligently doing the things necessary to keep it running.

For most of us, that’s a mundane sight. For every store we go to, we expect there to be human beings working there to keep it going. It’s part of the infrastructure that keeps these stores stocked. On top of that, seeing other human beings contributing gives us a sense of comfort in that this place is being run by real people with real faces.

Now, try and imagine a store that has no people working at it. You walk in the door and you never see another human being carrying out the various operations we expect of a functioning store. All that is now done by machines and robots. They’re the ones who stock the shelves, handle your money, and clean the messes.

Does that change the experience?

Does that make you more or less inclined to shop at that store?

These are relevant questions because, as I’ve noted before, robots and artificial intelligence are advancing rapidly. Automation is an ongoing trend that promises to have major economic ramifications. Some of those ramifications are already here. It’s one of the reason coal mining jobs will never be as prevalent as they once were.

Other ramifications haven’t arrived yet, but they will eventually come. The technology is there. The incentives are there. It’s just a matter of investing, refinement, and scale. Eventually, it will reach retail work, a sector that employs nearly 10 million people. That will have a major economic impact for large swaths of people.

Unlike other forms of automation, though, it’ll be a lot more visible.

Most of us never set foot in a factory where cars are made, much of which is done by robots. Most will never set foot in an Amazon or Walmart warehouse, which already use robots at a significant scale. The impact of just how much work is done by robots these days is not visible to most ordinary people.

That will not be the case with stores and retail work. Like I said, we all have to get out and shop every now and then. Even though online retail has become more prevalent, people still go to traditional brick and mortar stores. Even as online retail improves, that’s not likely to change.

However, how much will that experience change once robots start doing the jobs that humans have done for centuries?

How will that change the experience?

Will you, as a consumer, shop at a store that had no humans working there most of the time?

If you think this isn’t that far off, think again. Below is a video from an AI channel on YouTube that shows a robot using a bar code scanner for the first time. The process is a bit cumbersome, but the robot is able to handle it. It is able to receive instructions. Given the nature of how robots improve and refine their programming, it’s not unreasonable to assume that future robots will be able to carry out retail tasks more efficiently than any human worker.

It may not happen all at once. You probably won’t just walk into a store one day and notice that everyone was replaced by a robot. Like self check-out, it’ll likely happen gradually. Once it gets to a certain point, though, it’ll become mainstream very quickly. The incentives are just too strong.

You don’t need to be an economist to see those incentives. Robots don’t need to be paid. They don’t slack off on the job. They don’t get sick or tired. In theory, they could keep a store open 24/7 without ever paying overtime. For big box retailers like Walmart, the potential profits are just too large to ignore.

It won’t stop at stores, either. Restaurants will likely undergo a similar process. There are already working robots that can cook meals from scratch. Once they get refined and scaled, then it’s also likely you’ll one day eat at a restaurant entirely run by robots.

Would you be willing to eat at such a place?

Your answer will probably be similar to the one I asked earlier about whether you’d shop at a store run entirely by robots. Personally, I don’t think I’m ready to shop at a place that had no humans working in it, if only because robots sometimes break down. However, within my lifetime, it may get to a point where stores and restaurants run by humans become the exception rather than the norm.

Are we ready for that future?

I don’t know, but it’ll come whether we’re ready for it or not.

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Filed under futurism, robots, technology

Thoughts On A (Bittersweet) Black Friday 2020

I hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving.

If you did it right, you’re still digesting dinner and desert. I sure am.

However, as fun as it is to enjoy food, family, and football on Thanksgiving, Black Friday has become an extension of sorts for the holiday. For some people, it invites even bolder traditions than Thanksgiving. I’ve known people who will immediately camp outside of major stories almost immediately after Thanksgiving dinner.

I’m not one of them. I prefer enjoying Black Friday shopping on Black Friday. I always have. It’s not that I’m a sucker for sales and excessive consumerism. I just genuinely enjoy the Black Friday shopping experience, from the crowds to the holiday decorations to the various festivities.

I know that makes me weird in the eyes of some. I understand that. Black Friday is one of those events that you either love or hate. You love it because it’s the best shopping time of the season. You hate it because it’s the pinnacle of rampant consumerism. I can appreciate both positions. I still enjoy it.

That’s why this year is so difficult. This is the first year where I won’t partake in any Black Friday shopping sprees of any kind. Thanks to a global pandemic and a massive spike in cases over the past few weeks, pretty much any hope of salvaging this event, even in part, is gone.

For some, it’s no great loss. Not being able to go on a shopping spree in crowded stores probably doesn’t mean much to a lot of people. It means a lot to me.

It’s not just for the shopping part. Like many others, I do most of my Christmas shopping online. I finish nearly 90 percent of my holiday shopping before Black Friday. To me, just getting the gifts I want for my family isn’t the point anymore.

It’s the experience I’ve come to appreciate. That experience is what matters to me. It’s an experience that comes partially from my mother’s fondness of shopping.

She has told me on multiple occasions that her favorite activity with me, when I was a baby, was going shopping at the malls. I feel like I inherited that fondness for the experience from her. It’s one I even shared with my ex-girlfriend years ago. Some of our most memorable moments came while shopping on Black Friday.

Now, it’s just not possible to have any of those moments in a year like this.

It’s not surprising, given the current state of affairs, but it’s still disappointing. It’s yet another indicator that 2020 is a year in which we’ve lost so much. Between major movie releases, major sporting events, and beloved celebrities, the losses just keep accumulating. This is just the latest.

I don’t doubt it’ll come back at some point. Depending on how rapidly we recover from this pandemic, I have a feeling people will be eager to make up for lost experiences next year. I know I will.

Until then, I just want to take a moment to appreciate the past experiences I’ve enjoyed with Black Friday shopping. The experience of just going to malls, being around crowds, and taking part in holiday festivities are some of my favorite aspects of this time of year. I won’t let 2020 ruin my holidays, but I intend to appreciate future Black Fridays even more.

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Filed under Current Events, rants

A Sexy Anecdote About Black Friday

Does everybody feel full, bloated, and somewhat hung over? Good, because that’s a sign you had a great Thanksgiving. Even if you’re a health nut who agonizes over every calorie you ingest, this is a holiday where you punch your diet in the jaw, throw it out the window, and dive head-first into the nearest cheesecake. It’s part of the holiday spirit.

I certainly did my share of gorging yesterday. Yes, I do feel like a beached whale who had one too many glasses of whiskey. No, I don’t regret a goddamn thing. I love Thanksgiving. I love the food, family, and football it inspires. I also love the day that comes after it as well. It’s not exactly a holiday, but it can be just as much fun if you do it right.

Yes, I’m talking about Black Friday, that holiest of shopping days that inspire people to cut their Thanksgiving dinner short to stand in line at a big box store in hopes of saving a couple hundred bucks on something that’ll probably be cheaper in a couple months. It’s commercialism at its most egregious. The Catholic Church wishes it could inspire this kind of hysteria.

Personally, I love Black Friday. I love to wake up early, fight off a hangover, and go shopping. I know that’s not a very guy thing to do. I can’t say I care if it were. I’ve always loved to shop.

My mom actually told me stories about how she took me shopping when I was a baby. She claimed that was one of our favorite pastimes. I imagine it instilled in me a love of shopping that remains to this day. Compared to the other loves my mother could’ve instilled, I’ll gladly take this. For that, I thank her.

However, there’s another reason I’m fond of Black Friday shopping and it’s a much sexier reason. Sorry mom, but as an adult, sexier reasons do tend to resonate more with young men like me. In the spirit of Black Friday, I’d like to share that reason in the form of a sexy little story.

A number of years ago, back when I was still in college, I was dating this girl. She was cute, witty, and had a real dirty mouth, but in the most lovable of ways. We had been together for a while since then so when she had a chance to visit me on Thanksgiving, we jumped at the opportunity.

It turned out to be a lot of fun. She really enjoyed herself and my family certainly adored her company. There are a lot of dirty mouths in my family too so she fit right in. However, it was what happened on Black Friday, the day afterwards, that helped make that holiday extra memorable.

The day after Thanksgiving, my girlfriend insisted we go shopping. She didn’t need to do much to convince me, which I think surprised her. She loved to shop too so what better way for a young couple to enjoy their holidays than to share in their mutual loves?

My parents, being so wonderfully supportive of my love life, lent me their car so I could drive her up to the mall. Naturally, it was very crowded. You couldn’t take two steps without bumping into someone. It was so chaotic and so busy and we loved it. Dare I say, it put us in the mood.

How do I know this? Well, one of the first stores we visited was Victoria’s Secret. As a young man in his early 20s, that’s akin to a topless bikini model on a beach asking you if you’ll rub lotion on her tits. I can’t remember a time as an adult that didn’t involve bacon or chocolate where my face lit up so much.

Together, we ventured into that Victoria’s Secret. We were a couple shopping for sexy lingerie. I swear my heart and my penis teamed up to excite me and I think my girlfriend knew it. She actually let me assess some lingerie for her, which for me was like that same topless bikini model asking me how I would like to be pampered. I really did feel like a kid on Christmas morning.

I don’t know how long we stayed in that Victoria’s Secret store. To me, it wasn’t long enough, but we did leave with something sexy to enjoy later. I don’t remember what else we shopped for that day or what we ended up buying, but it felt like we had a more productive Black Friday than anyone else at the mall that day, including the guy we saw loading a 70-inch TV into the back of his SUV.

It only got better the next morning. We had a long night the night before so we didn’t get a chance to make use of the sexy lingerie we brought. My girlfriend, though, was nothing if not opportunistic on the holidays. So at around 5 a.m., she knocked on my door (my parents made us sleep in separate rooms) and gave me the best mourning wake-up call a 20-year-old guy could ask for.

Yes, she was wearing the new lingerie we just bought the other day and while it may have put her on Santa’s naughty list,  it made her worthy of every gift I could give. After I picked my jaw up off the floor, she crawled into bed with me. It was freezing that morning too so we had plenty of reasons to get cozy and comfortable.

Thanks to that lingerie, we warmed each other up pretty damn quickly. Out of respect for a very generous ex-girlfriend, I won’t go into too many details. I’ll just say that our hands, lips, and various other body parts made us feel wonderfully festive.

While I did eventually break up with this girl, she’ll always have a special place in my heart. Thanks to the lingerie I helped her pick out that day, Black Friday will also have a special place in my heart, among other parts of my body.

So with that sexy subtext in mind, I hope everybody out there enjoys their Black Friday shopping. I hope the lovers out there make sexy lingerie a priority. It can only make the holidays sexier and more festive.

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Filed under Jack Fisher's Insights