SEATTLE -- After more than a year of testing, it’s finally here: The flagship Amazon Go unit in Seattle opened to the public on Jan. 22.
Speculation surrounding the technology giant’s smart convenience store with no cashiers and no lines has spread rapidly since the concept was announced in December 2016. Amazon originally intended to open the store in early 2017, but it was forced to delay the opening due to technical limitations.
Judging by firsthand accounts, the technical issues that delayed the store’s opening have been resolved. Just as the video originally announcing the concept promised, there is no line in which to check out of the store. Customers simply activate the Amazon Go app, swipe it as they walk inside, grab what they need and leave.
Click through for more information on Amazon Go’s opening, how the store and app work, and more on what this might mean for Amazon and the American retail experience …
On the shelves
The product assortment inside Amazon Go is mostly ready-to-eat items: drinks, prepackaged snacks and condiments, according to Jerry Sheldon, analyst with the IHL Group. Sheldon and other press were given a tour of the store by Dilip Kumar, Amazon’s vice president of technology, leading up to the store opening.
Sheldon estimated that about 30% of the product offerings inside were from Amazon’s Go private-label brand, which includes products such as ready-to-eat sandwiches and snacks prepared on site. There are also Whole Foods products available, per Amazon’s $13.5 billion acquisition of the health-food grocer in August. Vegan and gluten-free offerings are labeled on shelf tags, but such distinctions are not yet included in the Amazon Go mobile app.
Amazon-branded meal kits are also available in-store. The kits are made by Amazon-employed chefs, and the packaging states that each meal takes about 30 minutes to prepare. Sheldon reported that the kits are priced anywhere from $16 to $20 and contain enough food for two people.
What the tech?
As previously reported, the store tracks what customers pick up from the shelves using a combination of cameras, sensors dotting the store and weight scales on some shelves. Once the store’s technology notices a customer has picked up an item from the shelf, it adds that item to the customer’s virtual cart in the Amazon Go app and updates Amazon’s internal records accordingly.
Sheldon of IHL also described a fleet of what he described as cameras hanging from the ceiling of the Amazon Go store. Most are positioned to view the floor at an angle, but some are also pointed directly at the floor. He speculated that the placement of the cameras was a “mixture of art and science,” and that a different location might need the cameras arrayed differently.
Kumar, Amazon’s vice president of technology, also said that while the in-store cameras track shopper movements, they do not use facial recognition, according to The Wall Street Journal.
While most of the store’s functions are made seamless through technology, store associates are still available to check for identification when a customer wishes to purchase alcohol from the store or ask questions that the store’s technology is unable to answer.
How it works
After signing in with an Amazon Prime account, app users are taken through a quick slideshow explaining how Amazon Go works.
The tutorial stipulates that customers can use the app to let in friends and family to the shop as well. However, it asks that customers don’t take items from the shelves and then give them to other shoppers, because the store’s sensors will place the item in the virtual cart of whoever originally grabbed the item.
Once users swipe through this tutorial, they are taken to the app’s homepage, which displays the QR code users need to enter the shop. The home page also displays the store’s hours for the day and its location.
Users can navigate through the app using the menu bar on the bottom of the screen, which includes the following pages:
- Discover, which details of products available in the store.
- Receipts, which displays receipts of past purchases.
- About, which offers additional information about Amazon Go and its products.
- More, which contains account settings and answers to commonly asked questions.
The Discover page is essentially a menu of items that can be purchased in the store. The descriptions of premade items include a list of ingredients.
Kumar said Amazon currently has no plans to bring Amazon Go technology to Whole Foods Market locations. When asked if the Amazon Go technology would be licensed to sell to third parties, Kumar said there are currently no plans to do that, either.
The Wall Street Journal also quoted former Amazon executives as saying that while it could take years to scale the tracking system to a larger-footprint store, it would make sense to implement the technology more widely.
Many have theorized that Amazon might try to license and sell its “just walk out” technology used in Amazon Go to other retailers. This strategy would mirror what the company has done to make Amazon Web Services available for paying clients. Amazon has remained tight-lipped about its long-term goals for the smart c-store, but Jeff Bezos and his company rarely make little plans. Don’t expect Amazon Go to sit tight in Seattle for long.