Normally, Amazon opening up yet another store wouldn't necessarily make headlines. The company has 12 Amazon Go stores, three Amazon 4-Star stores, five Amazon Pop Ups, 19 Amazon Books stores, and four malls "presented" by Amazon.

But Tuesday's unveil of its latest "lineless" store in the heart of New York City's financial district is notable because it's the e-commerce giant's first location to accept cash. Prior to Tuesday, if you wanted to shop at one of Amazon's offline stores, you'd need to be able to pay with a credit card or a mobile payment system. Just to get into the 1,300 square-foot store you need to have downloaded the company's app.

This store is different. While shoppers in the NYC location can still grab items like Dominique Ansel pastries, Ess-A-Bagel bagels, Whole Foods treats, and Amazon meal kits, and pay on the spot, the location will take your cold, hard cash.

To be sure, cash shoppers won't experience the frictionless experience of the grab-n-go system: they must alert an Amazon employee near the front gate that they aren't paying with a card or phone. From there, an attendant steps in to assist with the transaction the way a traditional cashier would. 

In recent years, coffee shops and eateries like San Francisco's Blue Bottle Coffee and New York City's Mulberry and Vine, along with retailers like Amazon, moved to skip cash altogether as a way to increase efficiencies and help serve customers faster, among other benefits.

Consumer advocacy organizations such as the Center for Responsible Lending and politicians like New York City Councilman Ritchie Torres responded by noting the cashless trend discriminates against those who don't have formal banking relationships. According to The Corporation for Enterprise Development, roughly 9 million Americans are considered "unbanked." States including Massachusetts and New Jersey have laws banning cash-less stores.

At least one business owner who stopped into the Amazon Go Tuesday to do some shopping said he suspects the future will be cash-less. Vijay Dattani, who owns several Cold Stone Creamery franchises in central Florida, was in New York City this week on vacation. He read about the store opening earlier in the day and made a special trip out to see it, downloading the Amazon app on the way to the store.

Dattani said he's intrigued by the concept. The store uses a combined use of computer vision, machine learning, and sensor fusion to track customers and what they're grabbing. The shelves are weighted and a system of cameras line the ceiling.

He also noted that being able to pay for things without waiting in line can be disorienting. "It's kind of weird," he said of the shopping experience. "I kept wanting to pay, I was scared to take something out. I thought I'd be shoplifting or something. It's too easy."

Still, as a business owner, he said he recognizes that brick-and-mortar shops will have to adopt similar technology going forward. "They won't have a choice if wages keep going up. They'll have to do it. They'll have to get on board. Otherwise they'll be left behind," Dattani said.

Published on: May 7, 2019