Wouldn’t it be better if self-checkout just died?

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That hatred can be explained in one phrase.

“Unexpected item in the bagging area” is a shared cultural reference like no other. It is recognizable by demographics so broad, the only thing that connects them is that they have at one point attempted to buy something at one of the nation’s largest grocery stores, pharmacies, or fast-food restaurants. It is fuel for memes, and tweets, and Reddit threads. It is the worst phrase known to retail. “Unexpected item in the bagging area” seems to be passive-aggressive code for “are you a shoplifter or just stupid?” and it haunts dreams.

Not everyone is trying to be a criminal mastermind. Anecdotally, a lot of people steal from self-checkouts simply because they get angry that an item won’t scan and figure it’s not their job to try that hard. Others steal small things here and there because the absence of a human cashier and the presence of only an obnoxious machine owned by a giant corporation turns it into a crime in name and not in spirit.

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In Amazon Go, no one thinks I’m stealing

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This isn’t paranoia: shopping while black is real. We get profiled as soon as the door chimes and announces our arrival in a store. Oscar-winning actor Forest Whitaker was once falsely accused of shoplifting and patted down in a store on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. A store associate in Switzerland wouldn’t let Oprah, the billionaire media mogul, see a handbag because she thought Oprah wouldn’t be able to afford it. Ninety-two percent of African-Americans said discrimination against black Americans exists today, according to a 2017 study commissioned by NPR.

Once the plastic bottle hit the bottom of my reusable bag, I glanced around to see if anyone noticed. The Amazon employees shuffled around the small store and restocked shelves…

No one cared what I was doing. Is this what it feels like to shop when you’re not black?

 

Stealing From a Cashierless Store (Without You, or the Cameras, Knowing It)

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Standard Market is the latest entry in the emerging fray of retail automation, where companies are throwing cameras, sensors and machine learning into grocery stores to replace the checkout line. In January, Amazon opened its first cashierless Go market in Seattle to the public; it has since opened more of the stores. In China, experiments in cashierless stores abound, using radio frequency identification tags and a self-checkout process that involves scanning a Quick Response code or your face.

Standard Cognition’s approach is different. It relies exclusively on the ceiling cameras and artificial intelligence software to figure out what you are buying. The cameras document shoppers’ movements, speed, stride length and gaze. The store knows when I glance at a poster and for how long. It knows if I slowed down, grabbed a chocolate bar and put it back. It knows if my body is facing the dried mangoes but my face is set on the popcorn.

And it knows (or is trying to know) when I am planning to steal.

Paying Is Voluntary at This Selfie-Friendly Store

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First there was self-checkout. Then Amazon’s cashier-free Go stores. Now there’s pay when you feel like it — we trust you.

At Drug Store, a narrow, black-and-white-tiled store that opened Wednesday in Manhattan’s Tribeca neighborhood, there is no cashier or checkout counter. Anyone can walk in, grab a $10.83 activated-charcoal drink and leave.

But the beverages, typically sold online by the case by Dirty Lemon, a start-up that runs the store, are not free. Dirty Lemon has made a bet that customers will pay the same way they order its pricey lemon-flavored drinks for home delivery: by sending the company a text message.

The Hidden Cost of Touchscreens

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Physical interfaces are crucial for automotive usability. Operations rely on a simple glance or muscle memory. Touchscreens, by contrast, force drivers to look. Because buttons are not fixed to specific locations, screens inhibit muscle memory and findability. Touchscreens compete for attention with the driving process, adding to the dangers of distracted driving.

Serious interfaces — those that are repeatedly used by a knowledgeable professional and/or in potentially hazardous situations, should not be touchscreen based. If a touchscreen must be used, it should be embedded alongside a set of fixed, physical buttons that support muscle memory and single actions.

What’s happening to in-car interfaces now? Five years later, we’re seeing some car models stick to physical buttons and dials, and that’s a great relief.

Apple Shifts From Genius Bars to Genius Groves, Hoping Patrons Linger

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Goodbye, Apple Genius Bar. You are being replaced by a tree-filled Genius Grove, which will have more room to sit and more Apple customer service specialists to troubleshoot devices.

“We didn’t want it to feel like a store. We wanted it to feel like a town square — very open, and everyone invited,” Angela Ahrendts, Apple’s senior vice president of retail and online stores, told reporters invited to Thursday’s preview.

The idea, Ms. Ahrendts said, is to make the Apple store a destination, not just a place to shop.

“We want people to say, ‘Meet me at Apple,’” she said. With more open space and places to sit, including wooden cubes and large leather medicine balls, customers will be able to linger.

How This Tokyo Bookstore Made Me Fall Back In Love With Print

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The longer I spent roaming the stacks, the more I became convinced that this store holds the key to understanding that deeper connection. I also felt like I was falling back in love with the printed word myself, which came as something of a shock — I’m a self-confessed, early-adopting, SIM card-swapping travel geek, currently on my seventh Kindle. This was not a nostalgic, Luddite moment, but a response to five specific principles that became increasingly clear to me as I wandered, browsed, read, and reflected.

Thinking of the store as a whole, and the way in which volumes of all kinds are beautifully displayed throughout, made me realize something else I’d been missing. The spine and cover designs of books, which used to be the predominant decoration of most of my friends’ apartments, offer a different kind of solace than that which comes from knowing that everything you’ve read lives somewhere in the cloud. Covers and spines are not just decorative items; they are external, tangible reminders of something that may have transformed you internally, emotionally, intellectually. To be able to call them up on your iPad simply isn’t the same as having them surround you — constantly reminding you, when you glimpse them, of the multitudes contained within each one.

The interaction reminded me of the extent to which, in doing research either for fun or for work, I’ve moved from seeking human guidance to doing all the digging myself, online. Obviously there are huge advantages to the powerful digital tools now at our disposal. But speaking with Tsutaya’s expert reminded me just how important — and enjoyable — it is to add a human perspective. He made connections between ideas I mentioned and stories he’d read in older periodicals (which the store still stocked).