SEATTLE – Call it Amazon.com’s driverless store.
The tech giant has built a convenience store in downtown Seattle that deploys a gaggle of technologies similar to those used in self-driving cars to allow shoppers to come in, grab items and walk out without going through a register.
The 1,800-square-foot store, officially dubbed “Amazon Go,” is the latest beach in brick-and-mortar retail stormed by the e-commerce giant, which already has bookstores and is working on secretive drive-through grocery locations.
It’s clearly a sign that Amazon sees a big opportunity in revolutionizing the staid traditions of Main Street commerce.
In the much longer term, if the experiment works out and is adopted widely, it could radically transform the nature of work in the retail industry, much like driverless car and truck technology threatens to upend transportation.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics said in a report this year that cashiers were the second-largest occupation, with 3.5 million employed in the U.S.
Located on the corner of Seventh Avenue and Blanchard Street, the Amazon Go store is open to Amazon employees participating in a testing program. It is expected to be open to the public in early 2017.
Amazon says that what makes the store tick is a combination of computer vision, sensors and machine learning that it calls “Just Walk Out technology.”
It can tell, say, when a particular shopper picks up a carton of milk from a shelf, and puts it in that shopper’s virtual cart. It can also tell when an item is put back on the shelf – and removes it from the virtual cart accordingly.
Shoppers walking into the store would call up the Amazon Go app and hold their smartphone to a scanner as they would at an airport. Then they just pick any combination of products and walk out. Amazon would charge them after they leave the store.
Unlike the self-serve registers present at many supermarkets, there’s no need to stand in line or go through any register. The store features ready-to-eat meals and snacks prepared by on-site chefs or local bakeries. There are also essentials such as bread and milk, as well as high-end cheese and chocolate.
Amazon says there will be well-known brands as well as “special finds we’re excited to introduce to customers.” That includes an “Amazon Meal Kit,” which contains ingredients needed to make a meal for two in 30 minutes.