Going shopping sucks, doesn't it? Think of all the time and energy that's wasted. You walk down the aisle. You pick out a box of Mallomars because they're unbelievably delicious and only available during certain times of the year. You put the box of those delicious Mallomars in your cart along with other stupid items like lettuce and cheese. You stand in line. You take the Mallomars out of the cart and put it on the cashier's belt. You then take the Mallomars off the belt after the cashier has scanned them and put them in a bag. You put the bag in the cart. You pay. Then you bring it home, carry the bags inside, take the Mallomars out of the bag and eat the entire box in one sitting with a big glass of cold milk.
What a process we have to go through for a box of Mallomars! But finally, there's a better way. No, it's not from Amazon. It's from Panasonic. And it's going to change how people shop, and merchants operate...forever.
The concept is simple. You stick all your items in a special shopping basket. You go to a self-service kiosk and slide the entire basket into a slot. A scanner detects and records all the items in the basket. You swipe or dip. The items drop into a bag. You walk out of the store, muttering about the high price of everything. You're home in time to eat your Mallomars in front of the inevitable sequel to Game of Thrones: The Rise of the Lannisters (remember, this is in the future).
The system "could bring a revolution to the broader retailing industry," Sadanobu Takemasu, the chief operating officer of convenience-store chain Lawson Inc., told the Wall Street Journal. "We all face a scarcity of labor." Reports of Takemasu being a Mallomars fan are unconfirmed.
My expectation is that the future generation of machines like Panasonic's will operate on a larger scale. Using radio-frequency ID technology, look for shoppers to be able to put items in bags right from the shelves and then just walk their cart through a giant scanner like the kind you go through at airport security. The items are scanned all at once, and payment is automatically made through a mobile app where payment details have already been set up. No lines. No repetitive taking stuff in and out of shopping carts and bags. Once stores start implementing this technology, it will become expected by shoppers.
The implications are big, both for employees and business owners.
Like Amazon's proposed self-service automated grocery stores, the Panasonic scanner can have an enormous effect on employment. Technology like this will (not might) result in the loss of many low-paying, low-skilled jobs like cashiers over the next decade, and workforces are going to have to adjust. As you might expect, executives at both Panasonic and Lawson are quick to say that all employees won't be receiving a pink slip. "Our store is also a point of communication for neighbors, where customers can enjoy chatting with clerks," said Lawson's Takemasu in the Wall Street Journal article.
For merchants, there's bad news and good news. Big technology investments are going to be required over the next decade to keep up with the Jones' and meet customers' expectations. So get out your wallets and take your banker out to dinner. But on the flip side, merchants will be able to cut back the cost of their biggest headache: finding, managing and paying people -- particularly in these times of labor shortages, $15 per hour minimum wage and rising healthcare expenses.
"The smart merchants will figure out a balance between people and technology in the years to come," Jeff Lenard, a vice president at the National Association of Convenience Stores told me. "This will be very similar to when gas stations converted to self-service pumps decades ago. A big investment in technology that was driven by customer demand has helped the industry grow."
The Panasonic scanning device is in test mode for now -- but the company expects it to go live by February with more being rolled out in the Lawson chain throughout 2018.
By the way -- Tony Soprano also loves Mallomars. So maybe he's not such a bad guy after all.
A version of this column originally appeared on Inc.com.