We’re All Would-Be Shoplifters in the Amazon Era

If someone shoplifts from a store, but they don’t know they’re doing it, is it still a crime? Amazon should probably figure that out, because according to a recent Washington Post story, unwitting theft could be a big problem at the retail giant’s new Amazon Go stores.

The first location opened in Seattle last week, with signs inside reading, “No lines. No checkout. (No, seriously)… Just walk out.” And while the operation seemed to run smoothly, at least one customer — who happened to be a CNBC reporter — took to Twitter to say that she wasn’t charged for her item, and thus accidentally shoplifted it.

As the story notes, “The rise of online shopping and app-based payments have given way to a gray area, retail and technology experts say, where the culprit for lost revenue might not be a nefarious customer or an employee slipping items into coat jackets, but a technical glitch.”

And while “Amazon executives responded with a giant shrug” when notified of the incident, “[Retail] analysts said [it] raised concerns about how the store, which relies on a system of cameras, scanners and infrared sensors to track customers’ movements and purchases, might handle theft, whether intentional or not.”

Also troubling: “How long until someone figures out a way to cheat the system by — who knows — wrapping items in aluminum wrap or stuffing them into metal containers?”

You might think that wrapping an Odwalla in tinfoil sounds silly, but I myself, a veteran of the retail industry, have seen far more creative efforts to steal, and that was with an actual human deterrent nearby.

You can read more about it at The Washington Post.

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  • Bryan

    Not a criminal lawyer, but in most states “intent to deprive” is a required element of theft. So no, I don’t think “accidental shoplifting” (as described here) is a crime. Luckily we still live in a world where Amazon’s opinion is not the law 🙂