Is a low-tax corporate form of work intensification where staff are tracked and assessed to ensure they meet exacting targets good for Britain?
What Amazon does today, its competitors seem to do tomorrow. That is why the arrival of Amazon’s futuristic shops are both troubling and important. The company’s new grocery stores do away with cashiers and use a Big Brother-style camera surveillance system that allows customers who swipe an app to walk in and walk out with their shopping. A bill is computed and cash automatically debited. Rivals are not waiting to be left behind. Both Tesco and Aldi are trialling similar technology. The market is a rich target: £180bn was spent in UK food shops in 2020 – a 7% rise on 2019.
Already Britain’s largest online retailer, Amazon is also one of the UK’s biggest digital streaming services and cloud computing businesses. By aggregating millions of data points, Amazon’s algorithms can extract information about consumption, transportation and work activities. These are then used to target the right consumers at the right time, and to pursue workplace changes that increase productivity. This way Amazon dominates markets while keeping customers happy. But at what cost to society?