Smartphone in hand, I stood inside the Amazon Go store and turned the screen over to scan a unique QR code into the top of the waist-high interior gateway. With a cheerful three-toned beep, the system logged me in, the glass doors opened, and green lights beckoned me into the future of retail.
Twenty-three seconds later, I was done shopping, standing back outside the gateway with my $2.99 bottle of Odwalla Strawberry C Monster Smoothie. It all happened so quickly I barely had time to think. I had simply grabbed the item and walked out, without standing in line or going through a traditional checkout. If anyone had been watching without knowing what was going on, it would have looked like I was shoplifting.
A short time later, the receipt appeared in the Amazon Go app, showing the amount debited for the purchase.
This is Amazon’s biggest experiment yet in high-tech retail — redefining the concept of grab-and-go grocery using a vast array of overhead cameras and weight sensors in the shelves to automatically track what people pick up and take from the store. By logging shoppers in at the entrance, then tracking their actions in the store, the system eliminates the need for traditional checkout registers and checkout workers along with them.
The system worked flawlessly during GeekWire’s very brief hands-on experience this past week. But the real test will come Monday, when the first Amazon Go store is scheduled to open to the public at the base of Amazon’s Day One tower on the northern edge of downtown Seattle.
It will be fascinating to see what happens, in at least two ways.
- First, there were reports last year that Amazon Go was struggling to accurately track items when too many people were in the store. Not true, company representatives told us, saying that the system worked during the internal employee testing phase even when the 1,800-square-foot store was at fire marshal capacity of more than 90 people including shoppers and workers. That’s what makes the public opening such a significant test for the technology.
- Second, how will people react to the notion of having their actions tracked inside the store? Sure, people will enter the store willingly, and the store is essentially a physical manifestation of the type of tracking that already takes place online. But to the extent that this concept represents the future of physical retail, where will the average person draw the line on personal privacy in the real world? The system includes both depth cameras and color cameras, and Amazon doesn’t hide them, leaving them clearly visible overhead in the rafters of the store.
Although there are some non-food items in the store, such as batteries and cold medication, the vast majority of the shelf space is dedicated to food and beverage, making Amazon Go feel more like a small grocery store than a traditional convenience store. We didn’t conduct a full price survey, but the limited prices we did check, including the Odwalla juice, were the same or comparable to what we’d find at our local grocery store.
In a bit of a surprise twist, Amazon Go doesn’t require an Amazon Prime membership to use. Customers will need to download the Amazon Go app, available Monday for iPhone and Android, and log in to the app with their normal Amazon accounts to gain access.