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david watson

a buck fifty in late charges from the local library

Stealing: the Future of Retail

You walk into CVS, or Walgreens, or Rite Aid, grab a tube of tooth paste off the shelf, and head for the checkout line.

That’s where the suffering begins. There is a line. The British call them queues, as if the average Briton is a computer scientist. They call it the Queen’s English for a reason. But I digress.

Why is there a line, you ask? It’s not because of overwhelming demand for tooth paste or anything else the average drug store sells. It’s because modern digital Point Of Sale (POS) systems don’t scale.


You thought that internet-connected POS systems and frequent flyer scan cards would solve everything? It turns out that there’s a lot of network and computing infrastructure required to support all of those systems and the people who designed these systems didn’t account for the aggregate latency of all of them combined.

Put an MBA with a stop watch at any one of these cash wrap experiences for a peried of time and you’ll discover that both cashiers and customers are equally fidgety over the amount of time they spend waiting at each swipe of a frequent flyer card or a credit card for that matter, and it all adds up to a hellish nightmare of a consumer experience.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. Why, you ask?

The people who designed these things forgot one giant differentiator betweeen traditional brick and mortar retail and Amazon. When you roll up to Amazon, they already know everything they need to know about you before you conduct a transaction. The transaction is frictionless because there’s no input required beyond product selection - the credit card and prime shipping are already associated with your account. That’s how they reduced retail to one click shopping.

Now imagine your neighbor’s dog and the invisible fence that keeps him off your lawn. That collar and the fence perimter enable a sensor network to know whether your dog is inside or outside the invisible fence perimiter.

In the future, brick and mortar stores will be able to associate payment information to your physical presence through a combination of compute, networks, and sensors. You won’t even need to take the device out of your pocket or purse. The store will know when you arrive and further what products you’ve selected. When you pass through the store’s perimiter carrying those products, the store’s sensor network will detect what products left with you and ensure that you are charged appropriately for those products.

Just like stealing, except the customer wins because there are no lines when the defacto mode of interaction with the store is stealing, where stealing is redefined as an efficient exchange of value between the customer and the store. And the store wins because cashiers can be providing value doing something else, like helping customers find products.

And if you’re into affiliate marketing, the transaction event will trigger a cascade of location-based affiliate marketing that you probably don’t want. But I digress…​