No cashiers and no lines. Simply tap your phone at the entrance, walk in, take what you need, and walk out. That is how Amazon envisions the future of retail shopping and they have opened up their proof-of-concept store to the public today.
The convenience store is called “Amazon Go”, located in the bottom floor of the company’s Seattle headquarters. The store had previously been only available to employees while they tested the concept, but now it has opened to the public.
You’ll find typical convenience store items being sold such as milk and potato chips, alongside items like wine and ready-to-go meals. There is also a section of pre-prepared meal boxes that contain ingredients you can take home to cook your own meals with.
— National Post (@nationalpost) January 22, 2018
A video shows the ‘walk out’ concept:
— Cameron Conaway (@CameronConaway) January 21, 2018
— Tech Insider (@techinsider) January 22, 2018
How does it all work? A proprietary system comprised of computer vision, machine learning algorithms and sensors built into the shelves and ceilings to track you as you walk around the store. It figures out what you’ve taken off the shelf, and how much it should be charging you for it. When you walk out of the store, the items you’ve taken are billed to your Amazon account via the phone app.
The ceiling is full of cameras which look very different from what you would consider a ‘security camera’. Instead, they appear to be camouflaged with the dark ceiling as inconspicuous, grey boxes.
Note the form chosen for the cameras in the Amazon Go store – camouflaged and near-featureless. Imagine how replacing them all with traditional CCTV cameras would change the space, and its effect on people. The continual bait-and-switch of convenience for privacy. pic.twitter.com/wJrLVoORco
— Wesley Goatley (@wesleygoatley) January 22, 2018
Is the store completely without employees? No. While it may seem like this futuristic store would be one completely run by computer AI, Amazon still has employees at the store to welcome guests as they enter (explaining how the app works before you enter the store), check ID for those looking to purchase alcohol, confirm things that the computer learning system isn’t sure about once in a while, stock shelves, and also make food (there is a glass walled area in the front of the store that you can see in from the street, where people can be seen preparing food for the ready-to-go meals), and helping customers with questions.
Here is a tweet of an employee checking ID before alcohol can be taken off the shelf:
“Because there are no cashiers, an employee sits in the wine and beer section of the store, checking I.D.s before customers can take alcohol off the shelves.” #AmazonGo https://t.co/T7I24vLA1f pic.twitter.com/sDqaN5tqRl
— Alexander Ringsdorff (@ringsdorff) January 21, 2018
There were large line-ups today of people waiting in line to the newly opened store to try buying lunch.
— GeekWire (@geekwire) January 22, 2018
— Patrick Quinn (@PatrickQuinnTV) January 22, 2018
— Tom (@stripedypaper) January 22, 2018
Amazon Go is not the first time the online retailer has ventured into brick and mortar. Amazon opened more than a dozen bookstore locations. Their bookstores utilize data from their massive e-commerce site to house only the best selling book titles, and suggest recommended reads on the shelves.
Amazon also bought Whole Foods last year, which means it now owns 470 brick-and-mortar grocery stores.
There is only one Amazon Go store open to the public currently, but you can expect to see Amazon implement their technology into other brick-and-mortar stores as they perfect it. There is plenty of opportunity for change in the retail industry as the traditional retail models have seen countless bankruptcies last year, and the problem is expected to get worse this year.