In the shadow of Amazon’s offices in downtown Seattle, people enter a tiny grocery store, take whatever they want, and then walk out. And nobody runs after them screaming.
This is what it’s like to shop at Amazon Go, the online retail giant’s vision for the future of brick-and-mortar stores. There are no checkout clerks, or even checkout stands. Instead, a smartphone app, hundreds of regular and infrared cameras on the ceiling (black on black, so they blend in), computer-vision algorithms, and machine learning work together to figure out what you’re picking up and charge you for it on a credit card connected to your Amazon account.
For now, it’s still largely an experiment. Over the past year, employees at Amazon’s headquarters acted as the guinea pigs, ducking in to grab plastic-wrapped sandwiches, chips, and yogurt. Meanwhile, the company—historically focused on selling all kinds of things online but increasingly interested in the world of offline retail with moves like its 2017 purchase of Whole Foods—has been munching on the data those interactions produced and refining its approach to AI-focused shopping.
But Amazon is about to move to the next phase of its plan: opening the store up to the public. Starting Monday, anyone who wants to can head over to the store in downtown Seattle and shop after checking in with an Amazon Go app. Eventually, the company hopes to open up more of these stores, said Dilip Kumar, vice president of technology for Amazon Go, as he showed me around the one on Seventh Avenue on a recent morning.
“People can come in and regardless of how crowded or less crowded it is, you control the amount of time that you’re actually spending at the store. You’re no longer subject to the vagaries of how long it takes you to shop,” Kumar said.