The most amazing thing about Amazon Go

It’s 2016 and everyone and their grandma has a supercomputer in their pocket. The Internet of Things gets mentioned so often, it’s probably a drinking game in Silicon Valley. When you can unlock your phone with your thumbprint or hail an Uber with your voice over Amazon Echo, imagine my surprise when I watched the latest shiny video making the rounds this week on Twitter.

Amazon Go, in its own description, uses the latest technologies to enable an instore shopping experience without ever needing to stand in a checkout line. Amazon Go “…is made possible by the same types of technologies used in self-driving cars: computer vision, sensor fusion, and deep learning. Our Just Walk Out technology automatically detects when products are taken from or returned to the shelves and keeps track of them in a virtual cart. When you’re done shopping, you can just leave the store. Shortly after, we’ll charge your Amazon account and send you a receipt.

Amazing, right? But wait. Hold on, pause that video… there it is! You check into the store with a QR code!

Oh, lowly QR code, how might you ever get some respect?

Five years ago, when QR codes were just making the rounds in agency creative conversations, I conducted a scavenger hunt to help people get a sense of what QR codes might do with one of these effective but truly ugly graphics. The results weren’t great but I did learn quite a bit about adoption rates of confusing tech.

The tech that just won’t die

The teaser poster we hung around the agency to spark interest, circa 2011

Like the UPC barcode, a QR code has a ton of advantages. It’s scannable at small sizes. It’s cheap to produce. It has an ecosystem to support it. Kind of. While you don’t often see people using an app specifically designed to read QR codes (who has ever pulled out their phone to scan one in a magazine ad or on some real estate agent’s postcard?), there are plenty of scanners in the retail ecosystem that gobbles them up. Loyalty apps like LevelUp and Belly use them for check-ins and payments. Airlines use them for boarding passes. They just won’t die.

So it’s just weird to me that a company that gives us the Echo, Dash buttons, and experimental drone delivery still has to fall back on the lowly QR code. Back in 2011, one of my conclusions was that the reading technology would eventually be folded into a phone’s camera intelligence but I guess I’ll keep waiting for that day to come. Either that, or QR codes will finally bite the dust.

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