If you haven’t heard of Amazon Go by now you might want to search for it online. It represents what could be part of the future of retail by taking away a key grievance consumers have with shopping – waiting in line to check out. While you’re doing your online search you might see me featured as an analyst discussing its implications in the news story. While I spoke about it several times in the media, I hadn’t actually been there so I decided it was time to check it out with my own eyes.
Located in Seattle, Washington, this store exemplifies the notion that big ideas are sometimes in small containers. It’s no larger than a typical convenience store at a gas station, but I knew I arrived when I saw a group of people taking pictures with their smartphones of a store front. I already had the Amazon Go app on my phone, which is linked to your existed Amazon account for billing purposes. As I entered the store I was greeted by two employees who advised me it was time to open the app so I can scan the barcode at a turnstile right by the front door. I felt as though I was boarding a plane because that’s the only other time I scan barcodes on my phone for entry.
The first thing I did was look up to see the technology on the ceiling. It was all colored black, which in some ways makes it blend into the ceiling, but you couldn’t help notice it was all throughout the store. This is apparently how the technology works – you scan your barcode at the entry, the cameras capture your face, therefore when you remove an item from the shelf it knows who took it and whom to bill.
The options seemed fairly straight forward – packaged foods, snacks, beverages, as well as ready-to-heat and ready-to-eat options. There were even alcoholic beverages in a section guarded by a staff member who checks for IDs. For those looking for more involvement they even had meal kits that have all the ingredients pre-proportioned and ready to prepare. It was lunchtime so I grabbed an Indian chick pea dish, a beverage, and a couple of snacks for later. However, I wanted to put the technology to the test so I grabbed two other random items and shortly thereafter placed them back to see if I would get charged incorrectly for them.
Now I was ready to check out – uh – I mean leave the store. I headed back to the turnstiles and had this odd feeling that I was doing something wrong but the staff waved me on and I simply left. There’s a small dining area with microwaves and while I ate there my receipt arrived via email – it worked! Only the items I took were charged and the two items I put back were not.
So will this technology be the way of the future? Perhaps. While details are top secret, it seems this technology is expensive and retrofitting stores all across the country could prove too large an expense for some retailers. However, consumers continue to express convenience in the way they procure their foods and beverages, which is why we’re seeing more consumers use online sources for delivery or pick-up to minimize their time in stores.
Speaking of minimizing time in the store, the receipt shows I spent 14 minutes and 33 seconds inside – about 10 minutes of which I was wandering around taking pictures.