There are no cashiers. There aren't even checkout lanes. And there definitely aren't any lines.
At Amazon's new grocery store, you just grab stuff off the shelves, bag it yourself and walk out. Everything gets automatically charged to your Amazon account.
It's called Amazon Go, and the store uses artificial intelligence and cameras to track what's being taken off the shelves. The 1,800-square-foot store is located in the ground level of Amazon's new headquarters. Starting today, it's open to the public. All you need for entry is the Amazon Go app.
It kind of feels like shoplifting. Except that's impossible, because there are hundreds of cameras on the ceiling tracking your every move. The New York Times technology correspondent Nick Wingfield actually tried to shoplift a four-pack of soda. He failed.
Why this is a huge surprise.
Amazon unveiled its grab-and-go store concept with great fanfare in December 2016. At first, Amazon Go was open only as a beta test to employees. Amazon had targeted early 2017 to open to the public, but hit a few technical snafus. The Wall Street Journal reported the store couldn't handle more than 20 shoppers at once.
Since everyone squeals with glee when a tech behemoth misses its mark, this prompted a flurry of articles opining about the feasibility of cashier-less shopping. Could Amazon actually pull this off? Was Amazon Go dead?
Then the Whole Foods acquisition happened, and everyone kinda forgot about Amazon's little AI grocery store experiment. It turns out this whole time, bringing Amazon Go to the masses was still very much in the works. They just weren't really talking about it until the store was ready for public consumption.
After refining the technology and inventory of items over the past year, the "just walk out" store is now open to all. Starting today, anyone can pop into Amazon Go and grab a ready-to-eat Mediterranean lamb sandwich or carton of milk. The store also sells meal kits -- "parmesan pork loin with tangy green beans and new potatoes" is one such offering.
How it works.
Tech journalists from Recode, Fast Company, and MIT Technology Review got to try out the shopping experience. "Actually shopping at Amazon Go feels a little weird," writes Rachel Metz of MIT Technology Review. "You open an entry gate by scanning a QR code in the Amazon Go app, and then you can just walk in and put your phone away (for some reason, this was really hard for me; I kept feeling I needed the phone out for it all to work)."
When you take an item off the shelf, the system places it in your digital cart. If you put it back, the system removes it from your cart. Take what you want, then leave the store. A few minutes later, you receive a digital receipt for your purchases.
"The whole experience was seamless and quick, and yet it was unnerving to have so little contact with other humans," reports Metz.
There is one item that requires a human element, however: buying booze. Amazon Go offers a selection of wine and beer, but a real human still needs to check your ID. Employees are stationed by the alcohol to verify your age before you grab a six-pack.
Is the future of grocery shopping cashier-less?
Right now there's only one Amazon Go location. But this is just the beginning. If this goes well, Amazon may begin to open others across the country. Perhaps it will tuck mini Amazon Go locations inside Whole Foods stores to draw in shoppers who need just a few quick items.
There's also the possibility that Amazon could sell the technology to other grocery store chains. But that seems less likely. To rise to the top of the grocery store food chain, Amazon probably won't invite other players to the table.