Amazon became the retail giant it is today by luring consumers away from brick-and-mortar shops with a massive online selection and cheap shipping. Now, Amazon has its own physical store in Seattle where people can pick up groceries and just walk out, and it’s open beginning today. The cashier-free store has been in beta for the last few years, but Amazon now says its automated technology is ready for primetime.
The “Amazon Go” shop was opened in late 2016 as a beta only for Amazon employees. The store was supposed to be live for everyone just a few months later, but clearly the technology backing Amazon Go was harder to perfect than Amazon anticipated. There are no cashiers in the Amazon store, but it doesn’t just have a self-checkout lane like a lot of stores these days. The store promises “no lines, no checkouts, no registers.” Instead, Amazon Go uses sensors to figure out what items you take, and charges you for them as you leave the store — Amazon calls it “Just Walk Out” technology. It might feel like shoplifting, but it’s all on the up-and-up.
Amazon Go uses machine learning and computer vision to track customers inside the store, many of the same technologies employed in self-driving cars. Customers simply scan a barcode from the Amazon Go app as they enter the store, and the system begins tracking their location and activities. As you leave, your virtual shopping cart is processed, charged to your preferred payment method, and Amazon sends you a receipt.
Past reports claimed the system would go haywire when people set an item down in the wrong spot. Presumably, Amazon has found a way to fix that glitch. Things tend to get moved around a lot in retail. Additionally, Amazon Go does have some real employees who prep ingredients for pre-made food items and stock shelves.
For now, Amazon only has the single 1,800-foot store in Seattle — this is still mostly a test for the technology, but it’s a public test. The company says it has no plans to launch Just Walk Out technology in Whole Foods, which the company bought last year for almost $14 billion. Curiously, that move made Amazon the second largest private employer in the US behind Walmart. Amazon has long invested in automation, which reduces the number of jobs in its facilities. More than 3.5 million Americans work as cashiers, almost a million of them in grocery stores like Amazon Go.
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