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Until now, nearly all consumer spending has faced a final barrier that is underrated in its ability to stop the most egregious and unnecessary purchases. That barrier has been targeted by retailers for a long time, and just cracked.

Amazon has had the "Go" project in the works for quite a while. I saw it coming years ago - in successive drafts of the book, the topic went from a paragraph of "could-be" to a page of "coming soon." It sounded as loopy and absurd as many of the other things I wrote about early, like consumer tracking, food engineering for addiction and the dangers of big data. But then I saw ads for staffing Amazon's Go division last month... and here's the big reveal.

There's way too much to say about this to even try to make this a complete analysis or even informative essay, so I won't try in this pass. But this change, the elimination of the checkout, may have more effect on consumer spending resistance than many of the data- and behaviorally-driven changes in retailing before it. Oh... I don't mean it will improve consumer resistance. Quite the opposite. When everything is "free," when there's no universal and formal moment of reckoning store choices with the reality of cost... we're looking at pure hindbrain to wallet spending, free of (enough) conscious, rational consideration.

Which, of course, is nirvana for retailers. That pesky resistance of consumers, their stubbornness at not making SeeWantBuy their operating principle, has vexed marketers and sellers for generations. Now, as I noted in the developing book, we're even closer to the marketing ideal of SeeBuy, with "Want" just automatic and assumed.

This is too depressing, so let's close out with an old joke I eventually worked into the book draft and will now probably relegate to a footnote.

An old Scotsman came to America and eventually found himself in a modern grocery store. Overwhelmed at the vast range of goods, he quickly began to fill his shopping cart with glee. When there was no more room, he headed for the exit, only to find his way blocked by the checkout line. "Dom!" he cried. "Ah knew there'd be a catch!"

And to some degree, we all depend on that "catch" a little. It's not uncommon to see shoppers at Target (mostly younger, some not-so, all  naive) reach the cashier with full basket, balk at the total, and slowly remove items from their order until it meets some pre-defined limit. A limit they could not seem to consider as they shopped. We can all smirk and roll our eyes at such lack of arithmetic and logic skills, but will we still be smirking when barrierless checkout becomes as common as the irritating self-checkout kiosks?

I don't know. I do know that removing the last "catch" in consumer spending represents a terrible offensive in this war, and one consumers are utterly unprepared to resist.

James Gifford (sig)

Consumers don't exist. And nothing says more about the uselessness of conventional economic theory than that.

Hi, fellow non-existee.

Consumers do not exist, except as a word and a vague deprecated class, in conventional economic thought. Oh, there are few writings dealing with the general economy that do not use the word, and there are decreasingly small niches of the field that deal increasingly with consumers as real entities, but on the whole... there 'ain't no setch animal' to most economists. Which, I understand, sounds like nonsense.

However, clear your mind and think of it this way: how are consumers represented in most economic writings and theories? As individuals? As a class with any discernible characteristics beyond ability and tendency to buy? As an active component of the system in any way?

The correct answer to the last is "yes"... but only in a fixed and passive manner.

I'll quit with the verbal fencing and put it bluntly. In nearly all economic discussions, the role of consumers is simply to be a target for... sales. It's all about sales — up, down, trending, surprising, dismal, whatever. Sales. Never a word about "purchases" or "buying." Consumers are a faceless, nameless, nearly valueless class that serves as a collection bin — or a "de-vending machine" — to balance the effect of the all-holy sale.

Does anything say more about the irrelevancy of economics to consumers (as actual, you know, individuals) than this wholly business/commerce-oriented  viewpoint? Economists don't give a rodent's patootie about the purchase or much of anything downstream from it, such as continuing costs for the buyer, or suitability of the purchase, or ability of the buyer to afford the item. No, we stop and venerate the sale. And stop there.

It's as if the backbreaking labor of slaves were only addressed as tons of coal mined, bales of cotton produced or acres of ground cleared. Oh, wait... plantations did indeed keep their books that way. Okay, it's as if factory workers were only addressed as number of iPhones or toasters or Toyotas produced. Um, hold it... of course that's how they're regarded. If the actual contribution of workers - indentured or not - is brushed aside as a meaningless collective force, it turns them into a faceless commodity... which is of course how most business, and its working tool economics, sees them.

Consumers don't even rate that highly; we have no unions, demands, compensation issues, availability issues or other direct costs. The marching drones, the frantic clock-guy in Metropolis have more humanity and regard than we do.

This revelation should really piss you off, and I hope it does.

I contend it's time for a drastic revision of economic thought, beginning with the needs and importance of consumers as individuals — and the collective needs of everyone on Earth, in terms of sustainability and quality of life, not to mention simple survival — and ending somewhere out on the fringes with corporate concerns.

As long as we remain a faceless mob holding out our bags for the proceeds of "sales," exchanging our lives to power an economic cycle of dubious worth, we will remain nearly powerless; we will be little more than our assigned role of silent, invisible economic batteries. It is time for consumers to be seen. It is time for consumers to rise.

It is time for us to go Renegade.

James Gifford (sig)