In December 2016, Amazon Go launched in Amazon’s hometown of Seattle, Washington, as a beta test with employees. The brick-and-mortar store’s goal—to test how Amazon could reinvent the convenience store. Its vision included no cashiers, no checkout lines, payment by smartphone, charging all purchases to the customer’s Amazon account. Just swipe in, shop and go—or as Amazon puts it, try the “Just Walk Out” shopping experience.
To start shopping, customers need to scan their Amazon Go app as they pass through the turnstile. Then they can pick up any item or items they want to purchase and just walk out the door. The bill will be charged directly to their Amazon account, while phones aren’t necessary to shop.
“Our checkout-free shopping experience is made possible by the same types of technologies used in self-driving cars: computer vision, sensor fusion, and deep learning. Our Just Walk Out Technology automatically detects when products are taken from or returned to the shelves and keeps track of them in a virtual cart. When you’re done shopping, you can just leave the store. Shortly after, we’ll send you a receipt and charge your Amazon account.”
It all started with a simple question, according to Dilip Kumar, the vice president of technology for Amazon Go as well as the company’s 13 Amazon Books stores: “What can we do to improve on convenience?” The answer: “What we always came back to was people don’t like waiting in line.”
As Amazon elaborates,
We asked ourselves: what if we could create a shopping experience with no lines and no checkout? Could we push the boundaries of computer vision and machine learning to create a store where customers could simply take what they want and go? Our answer to those questions is Amazon Go and ‘Just Walk Out Shopping.’
Today, after five years in the making, Amazon Go is coming out of beta and opening the doors to an 1,800-square foot mini-market packed with shelves of food aimed at urban shoppers in a hurry. It’s located on the ground floor of Amazon’s headquarters on Seventh Avenue in Seattle, but it’s no longer exclusive to employees. It’s confident that non-associates can be trusted to not “Just Walk Out” without paying.
As the Seattle Times notes,
Upon entering, shoppers are greeted by a selection of salads, sandwiches and beverages, as well as ready-to-eat meals for breakfasts, lunches and dinners. Amazon Go also carries small selections of beer and wine, as well as produce, meat and even Amazon’s own meal kits. Following Amazon’s acquisition of Whole Foods, one section is also set aside for chips, cookies and nuts, all from the grocer’s 365 Everyday Value brand.
Amazon Go elaborates: “We offer delicious ready-to-eat breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snack options made by our chefs and favorite local kitchens and bakeries. Our selection of grocery essentials ranges from staples like bread and milk to artisan cheeses and locally made chocolates. For a quick home-cooked dinner, pick up one of our chef-designed Amazon Meal Kits, with all the ingredients you need to make a meal for two in about 30 minutes.”
The Times adds,
The store’s real reason for being is to test what could be a breakthrough Amazon hypothesis: that by adding even more convenience to the convenience store model—with the help of a healthy dose of technology—Amazon might be able to carve out a loyal customer base outside of its website and inside a physical store where the vast majority of food and grocery shopping still occurs.
Shopping there is easy: All you need is an Amazon account, the free Amazon Go app, and a recent-generation iPhone or Android phone. You can find the Amazon Go app on the Apple App Store, Google Play, and Amazon Appstore.
Cameras and shelf sensors help Amazon’s computer vision system “connect you and the phone you scanned at the entrance with the items you grabbed off of shelves and carried out the door. On rare occasions, a human is needed to confirm that the technology got it right.”
USA Today has high hopes for the concept, which differs from Amazon Books in having checkouts: “If it succeeds, it stands to live up to those early expectations of a revolution in grocery shopping. The ability to walk into a store, grab what you want and simply walk out is remarkably freeing, though it can leave a slight nagging feeling that you’ve just shoplifted — until you check the app to make sure you’ve been charged.”
“This is the definition of disruption,” Forrester Research analyst Brendan Witcher tells USA Today. “This is Netflix replacing Blockbuster. This is Uber replacing taxis.”
For a closer look, check out Recode’s photo gallery.