Amazon.com on Monday will open Amazon Go, its automated grocery store in Seattle, to the public. The store replaces cashiers with a checkout-free shopping experience made with with what Amazon calls "Just Walk Out" technology that uses computer vision, deep learning algorithms and sensor fusion — many of the same advances being used to develop autonomous driving. It works like this: Consumers scan their Amazon Go app as they walk into the store. Then, they pick up whatever they want and simply walk out. On the backend, the Just Walk Out technology will automatically detect the products consumers took from the shelves and keep track of them in a virtual cart. Shorty after customers are done shopping and leave the store, Amazon will send send a receipt and charge their Amazon accounts. The 1,800-square-foot store located in the middle of Amazon's Seattle campus debuted in late 2016, and was supposed to open to the public in early 2017, according to the website. However, it has remained in beta mode for Amazon employees only. For now, Amazon is testing the concept on a limited basis and has no plans to implement the technology in Whole Foods.
Total Retail's Take: Albeit a little later than planned, Amazon is following through on its vision for a cashier-less store. The online behemoth said it decided to create Amazon Go after imagining a shopping experience with no lines and no checkout, where it could push the boundaries of computer vision and machine learning to create a store where customers could simply take what they want and go. Will the store be successful, though? That's debatable. Retail analysts are on the fence as they track the following challenges Amazon may face with Amazon Go:
- Will the technology work? Amazon Go was originally scheduled to open to the public in early 2017, but was delayed in part due to the complexity of the technology.
- Will consumers "buy" it? Some experts are saying the high-tech approach is the biggest breakthrough for grocery stores since barcodes. However, will consumers warm to an omnichannel, technologically advanced retail experience?
- Will Amazon be blamed for killing cashier jobs? According to the Department of Labor, more than 3.5 million Americans held cashier jobs as of May 2016. Nearly 900,000 of those jobs were in grocery stores. The Amazon Go store eliminates the need for cashiers, and could thus make thousands of jobs redundant. Amazon contends that it will need to hire people to work in Amazon Go stores — a team of "associates" who prep ingredients, make prepared items, greet customers and stock shelves.
If Amazon Go succeeds, it stands to live up to those early expectations of a revolution in grocery shopping. The ability to walk into a store, grab what you want and simply walk out is freeing and revolutionary. To me it's the the definition of disruption, along the same lines as Netflix replacing Blockbuster and Uber replacing taxis.