is stepping further into physical retail with plans to open a grocery store like no other.
Called Amazon Go, it employs what Amazon calls “Just Walk Out Technology” to allow users to grab what they want from shelves and leave the store without having to deal with tills or queues.
Amazon Go works through a combination of computer vision, sensor fusion, and deep learning – essentially, the same technologies that power self-driving cars. Shoppers scan a unique QR code from an associated app on their phone as they enter the store, then anything they pick up is automatically tracked and added to their (digital) shopping cart.
Once you’ve picked up what you need, you just leave the store and you’ll be automatically invoiced via your Amazon account. Items you might have picked up to look at, or change your mind about before leaving, are deducted from your shopping list when you replace them, so customers shouldn’t have to worry about being mistakenly billed.
As for what’s on offer, Amazon seems to be splitting the difference between a local convenience store and a deli. The company promises “delicious ready-to-eat breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snack options made fresh every day by our on-site chefs and favorite local kitchens and bakeries”, alongside staple groceries such as bread and milk to “artisan cheeses and locally made chocolates”. There will also be familiar brands and “chef-designed Amazon Meal Kits”, which pack in all necessary ingredients to prepare a home-cooked meal.
The biggest issue facing Amazon – beyond making sure the tech all works and communicates properly – is how customers take to being tracked with every step they take in an Amazon Go store. That will be necessary for the technology to work, but could be off-putting to some. There could also be labour issues, as a wider expansion could begin to eliminate low-skilled jobs for humans.
The first Amazon Go store is currently open to Amazon employees and will open to the public in early 2017. It’s an ultra limited rollout though – not only is it planned for the US only, it’s also one unit only, located in the company’s home town of Seattle, Washington. If consumers take kindly to the model – and being tracked while they shop – expect to see it expand widely, as did Amazon Prime Now.
The test store is Amazon’s latest endeavour to crack brick and mortar retailing. The business has spent recent years increasing its presence in physical space, opening book stores in key US locations and blurring the line between physical and online shopping. Westfield Labs’ Antony Ritch observed at WIRED Retail 2016 that the push is “because it’s good business. It’s what the customer wants.”\