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A Future Without Retail Workers? Some Respond to Opening of Amazon Go with Anger and Fear

Amazon Go, the automated convenience store that recently opened to the public in Seattle, lets shoppers stroll in, grab whatever they want, and zoom back out, all without having to deal with a checkout line or a human worker at the cash register.

The self-checkout store is, of course, just the latest innovation in convenience from the logistics giant—unless, as Slate reporter April Glaser reported today, you need to use food stamps for your groceries.

As Splinter staff writer Clio Chang argues, Amazon Go’s concept was never class-friendly to begin with. Simply entering the store already requires grocery shoppers to own a smartphone with the Amazon Go app, which automatically charges people for item they take out of the door. On top of that, she writes, “there is the resounding uncertainty about how this type of automation will affect the millions of Americans who making their livelihoods working retail jobs.”

But the fact that Amazon Go doesn’t take food stamps has only further validated critics who argue that the store is “geared towards a certain class of people.” And that class does not inclide the more than 1 million Washingtonians (roughly one in seven) who rely on food stamps to help feed their families.

Amazon is currently participating in a USDA pilot program to take food stamps from shoppers in a couple states. It has also offered discounted Prime memberships for food stamp recipients, but SNAP funds still can’t be used to pay for Prime membership or delivery charges. According to the Los Angeles Times, there is no discount for Amazon’s grocery delivery service, AmazonFresh.

This comes at an especially politically-charged moment for Seattle, which has seen a dramatic spike in income inequality over the past few years, and now rivals San Francisco, with the top 20% of households cornering more than half of the city’s income in 2016. As Chang puts it, “Amazon’s new store might look like a shining beacon of the future, but it’s also a reminder that under techno-capitalism, that future is only reserved for the rich.”

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