How would you like to skip the line at your local grocery store and just walk out with your purchase? Amazon is now offering that experience to anyone in Seattle with its Amazon Go store — and we tried it out for ourselves.
Amazon Go — Amazon’s brick-and-mortar checkout-free shopping experience — opened to the public this Monday, nestled next to the company’s biosphere installations in downtown Seattle. The convenience store is the first of its kind — a “grab and go” solution that lets you walk in, pick out your own items from the store shelves, and then walk out the door without checking out with a cashier. Your purchases are automatically charged to your Amazon account after you’ve left the store.
How does it work? Amazon’s “Just Walk Out Technology” uses computer vision, sensor fusion, and deep learning to monitor every person who enters the store, and detects when products are removed or returned to the shelves. All you have to do is download the Amazon Go app onto your smartphone, log into your Amazon account (a one-time thing), and then swipe the code on your phone when you enter the store. From there, you’re free to shop the store’s 1,800 square foot space to your heart’s delight and simply leave with your purchases.
I visited Amazon Go on Tuesday to avoid the trample of first-day visitors and long lines just to get into the store. As hoped, there was no line and the process of tagging my phone — even with a wet screen from the rain — was easy and instantaneous.
Once you enter the store, it looks like a high-end convenience store — somewhere in-between a corner store and a mid-size grocery. Pre-prepared meal items, snacks, and beverages greet your eye as you walk in, and there’s also a modest frozen food, meat, and dairy section. And in the back is a tiny beer and wine nook watched over by one of the few in-store employees. The overall selection is similar to that of a 7-Eleven, but without the Slurpees and chili-cheese dogs.
Aside from Amazon’s fresh meal kits, there aren’t many products that are exclusive to the Amazon Go store. It leverages Amazon’s purchase of Whole Foods to include items from the grocery store chain’s 365 Everyday Value brand, such as my purchase of 365 Everyday Value Trail Mix ($6.99). Overall, prices are in line with most grocery stores (maybe slightly higher), though this isn’t a place for bargain shopping. An Amazon Meal Kit for two runs between $15.99 and $19.99. A half-gallon of Organic Valley 2% Reduced Fat Milk is $4.19. And a 12-oz box of Cheerios goes for $2.99.
The most notable differences between Amazon Go and any other convenience store is the lack of a checkout counter (or line) and rows upon rows of black cameras and sensors that dot the ceiling. Staff are around to answer questions, hand you a shopping bag, or restock groceries, but they mostly felt necessary to help guide shoppers confused by the technology.
So what are the limitations? Well, the app warns you not to remove a product and hand it to a friend unless you plan on buying it. The person who picks it up pays. Coupon users are also out of luck — no checkout stand means there’s no place to scan coupons. (Then again, who uses coupons at a corner store anyway?) And despite your purchases showing up on the app, it doesn’t keep a running total while you’re inside Amazon Go so you don’t actually know how much you’ve paid for everything until after you leave the store.
The system worked perfectly during my visit. I picked out three items, and each was detected and charged correctly after I left. Items that I picked up and returned to the shelf weren’t charged. Being able to grab items and leave without “paying” at checkout felt weird, though — like legal shoplifting.
So far, the tech behind Amazon Go seems to be a success, though one CNBC reporter accidentally “shoplifted” a yogurt that wasn’t tracked. (Amazon told her to keep it.) But not everyone can (or would) report unintentional theft to Amazon Go’s vice president, so it’s difficult to say how much loss has and will occur over time. For its part, Amazon says that it happens so rarely that they didn’t even bother building in a feature for customers to tell them it happened.
So may fortune forever be in your favor! You too could accidentally get a free yogurt from Amazon Go and Amazon won’t care.