Inside Amazon Go: the store of the future

Long lines at checkout are common at grocery stores. But at Amazon's new cashier-free store, you'll only need to wor...

Posted: Jan 26, 2018 5:02 PM
Updated: Jan 26, 2018 5:02 PM

Long lines at checkout are common at grocery stores. But at Amazon's new cashier-free store, you'll only need to worry about clumps of tourists.

The small test store in Seattle, which opened to the public for the first time on Monday, could be what automated shopping spaces will look like in the future. It uses cameras and sensors to detect what food you've taken from a shelf, then automatically charges you when you walk out.

I stopped by to try out the store, located in the base of Amazon's corporate skyscraper, on Thursday morning. Three days after its grand opening, the massive lines had mostly disappeared. There were only a handful of shoppers inside at 10:15 a.m., but business picked up at lunchtime and there was a short line to enter.

To walk in, you need a few things: an Amazon account, a recent smartphone, and the Amazon Go app.

You enter the 1800-square-foot space through six high-tech turnstiles. Open the app and wave a code on your screen above a gate to open it. It's a familiar experience to anyone who has ridden a subway or used a mobile boarding pass at the airport.

The second you're inside, Amazon begins tracking your movements. Every kombucha drink or bag of taro chips you take off a shelf is added to a "virtual" shopping cart. The store's system knows if you pick something up and put it back.

The shelves are primarily stocked with packaged and pre-made foods. There are Amazon meal kits, sandwiches, snacks and basics like flour and coffee beans. You can grab a souvenir mug with the store's motto, "Just walk out shopping."

There is not much fresh produce, probably because tracking loose apples and other items sold by weight is tricky without a scale. Personal items are also limited -- if you were hoping to avoid the awkwardness of buying condoms from a human, you are out of luck.

I settled on a package of blueberries, string cheese, an Amazon Go chocolate bar and a slightly soggy burrata sandwich.

Related: Amazon to (finally) open checkout-free store in Seattle

I used one of Amazon's orange shopping bags, but you can also shove the items directly into your own pockets or purse. Walking out through the turnstiles is even easier and faster than coming in. The store knows you've left and tallies up what items it's seen you take, charging your account.

There's the brief sensation of feeling like you got away with something, but then Amazon sends a push notification about your receipt.

Even though the store's done away with cashiers and baggers, there are plenty of human employees milling around in bright Amazon Orange. Stockers regularly refill shelves and one person checks IDs near the alcohol. Outside, greeters hand out reusable shopping bags and answer questions.

The store's design feels familiar if generic, like a miniaturized Whole Foods. That is, until you look up. The ceiling is a dark crisscross of wires and metal beams holding around 100 square black cameras.

Amazon isn't sharing too many details about how its technology works, but it has denied using facial recognition for people tracking. The shelves have sensors and know when something is removed. You can pick things up and put them back, and you won't be charged.

The store has been open to Amazon employees for the past year. A number of them quickly ducked in for lunch and snack supplies before heading back upstairs.

But more shoppers were there to check out the store itself. There were tourists from around the world, including France and Japan. One family visiting from Taipei, Taiwan, came to the store after seeing a story about it on TV at home. Their next Seattle sightseeing destination was the original Starbucks.

Juliette Imhof and Michelle LaRocca were in town from New York City and decided to pick up some wine, water, coffee and chocolate.

"I was curious to see it. I assume in a short time there's going to be a million of them taking over the world," said LaRocca.

For now, the novelty of Amazon's first automated grocery store is eclipsing potential issues that may come up. Because it requires an account and smartphone, it could be inaccessible to many lower-income shoppers. The tracking technology may raise privacy and data collection concerns. And then there's the 3.5 million cashiers in the U.S. making around $9.70 an hour who could eventually lose their jobs to automation.

Bassem Bejjani, a local who stopped into the store, said he knows the employees at his usual market and regularly makes small talk with one of his favorites, John.

"I think I would miss that," said Bejjani. "At the end of the day, the people who are shaping the world work in technology, and they are more comfortable with [automation] instead of small talk."

Terre Haute
Partly Cloudy
46° wxIcon
Hi: 72° Lo: 44°
Feels Like: 46°
Robinson
Cloudy
38° wxIcon
Hi: 71° Lo: 43°
Feels Like: 38°
Indianapolis
Clear
51° wxIcon
Hi: 71° Lo: 44°
Feels Like: 51°
Rockville
Clear
43° wxIcon
Hi: 71° Lo: 42°
Feels Like: 40°
Casey
Partly Cloudy
50° wxIcon
Hi: 71° Lo: 43°
Feels Like: 50°
Brazil
Clear
40° wxIcon
Hi: 71° Lo: 43°
Feels Like: 40°
Marshall
Partly Cloudy
46° wxIcon
Hi: 71° Lo: 41°
Feels Like: 46°
Clear, Chilly Overnight
WTHI Planner
WTHI Temps
WTHI Radar

WTHI Events

 

Illinois Coronavirus Cases

(Widget updates once daily at 7 p.m. CT)

Cases: 1671275

Reported Deaths: 27903
CountyCasesDeaths
Cook63319811182
DuPage1078031375
Will910281124
Lake797931082
Kane68211868
Winnebago40918559
Madison40014592
St. Clair36230595
McHenry34584326
Champaign26931196
Peoria26845368
Sangamon25682284
McLean22947217
Tazewell20601330
Rock Island18783360
Kankakee17848248
Kendall16162113
Macon15259250
LaSalle14983285
Vermilion14303199
Adams13097152
DeKalb12114133
Williamson12027174
Whiteside8265183
Jackson808394
Boone790483
Coles7857122
Ogle754587
Grundy735386
Franklin7317115
Knox7244169
Clinton7113102
Macoupin6927104
Marion6907143
Henry661677
Effingham658099
Jefferson6523143
Livingston596098
Stephenson580992
Woodford575292
Randolph553799
Christian531882
Fulton525875
Monroe5243103
Morgan505299
Logan494274
Montgomery489881
Lee478060
Bureau442190
Saline433169
Perry432375
Fayette429564
Iroquois419977
McDonough373460
Shelby345848
Jersey335153
Crawford331330
Lawrence330833
Douglas326237
Union305848
Wayne301762
White279333
Richland279057
Hancock273035
Cass265330
Clark265240
Pike263358
Clay258254
Edgar256749
Bond255625
Warren243665
Ford242859
Carroll236038
Moultrie231433
Johnson225131
Wabash217019
Jo Daviess215129
Massac214148
Mason212752
Washington211628
De Witt204930
Greene204840
Mercer203435
Piatt200914
Cumberland189526
Menard171913
Jasper161021
Marshall141221
Hamilton133622
Schuyler107010
Brown106410
Pulaski103811
Edwards103418
Stark81228
Gallatin7878
Alexander71712
Scott7136
Henderson69814
Calhoun6902
Hardin59816
Putnam5614
Pope5476
Unassigned1632433
Out of IL70

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

(Widget updates once daily at 8 p.m. ET)

Cases: 1000163

Reported Deaths: 16309
CountyCasesDeaths
Marion1347632106
Lake660041156
Allen57441793
Hamilton46100461
St. Joseph44109607
Elkhart35696507
Vanderburgh32087477
Tippecanoe27796257
Johnson24902443
Hendricks23738354
Porter22802362
Madison18614404
Clark18424250
Vigo17347301
Monroe15180197
LaPorte15046250
Delaware14984259
Howard14626287
Kosciusko12217147
Hancock11630175
Bartholomew11505179
Warrick11255189
Floyd11013214
Wayne10897250
Grant9964218
Morgan9404176
Boone8863116
Dubois8227130
Dearborn817093
Henry8139151
Noble7984106
Marshall7838134
Cass7499119
Lawrence7403170
Shelby7138114
Jackson694088
Gibson6533113
Harrison644491
Huntington633999
Knox6273106
DeKalb626397
Montgomery6208109
Miami589797
Putnam575377
Clinton570271
Whitley560455
Steuben554675
Wabash5279101
Jasper524475
Jefferson506996
Ripley495685
Adams476073
Daviess4616113
Scott435869
Greene422096
Wells420987
Clay420260
White415962
Decatur4133101
Fayette404286
Jennings385160
Posey375343
LaGrange353978
Washington353249
Randolph341999
Spencer337342
Fountain332558
Sullivan326752
Starke313369
Owen312070
Fulton306567
Orange291762
Jay280445
Perry264752
Franklin264042
Carroll259132
Rush258832
Vermillion255454
Parke230026
Pike227943
Tipton226659
Blackford190540
Pulaski181855
Crawford158623
Newton156048
Benton150217
Brown144547
Martin137419
Switzerland134211
Warren120516
Union106815
Ohio84112
Unassigned0538