Amazon Go - The Store Without Checkouts

Amazon Go - The Store Without Checkouts

Amazon’s never been shy of pushing the envelope – and while its touted drone deliveries made a big splash in 2016, the launch of Amazon Go might be the company’s biggest innovation yet.

Amazon Go, which opened its first location in Seattle in January 2018, is an 1,800 sq ft grocery store with no checkouts and no queues. Customers simply walk in, take what they want, and walk out again.

It’s not the first time Amazon, which famously does the majority of its business digitally, has stretched out into the physical realm. Its first bookshop, which opened in 2015, has been widely seen as more of a branding exercise than a revolution in bookselling, although Amazon is reportedly planning 400 more in future.

Amazon Go, on the other hand, is the real deal – a bold experiment that has the potential to change the way we all shop. So how does it work, exactly?

How do I shop with Amazon Go?

First, you’ll need to be in downtown Seattle – there’s only one location so far, and it's in Amazon’s home city. But once you’ve accomplished that, buying from Amazon Go is as easy as using an app.

When you arrive at the store, you’ll need to fire up the Go app on your smartphone, which links to your Amazon account and provides an entry code.

That’s right, you can’t actually get into the store without an Amazon account. You can, however, check-in other people when you enter, and anything they leave with will be added to your tab.

Once you’re inside, the tech steps up. There are hundreds and hundreds of cameras all over the store, constantly monitoring what’s on the shelves as people come and go. The shelves themselves are weight-sensitive, helping the store’s software to confirm which products are which.

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How does Amazon Go work?

Using a complex deep learning algorithm, these cameras are able to ‘see’ and tell the store not only what’s been picked up, but also who’s carrying it – although Amazon has stressed that the cameras don’t need or use facial recognition technology to do this. The system also detects when you’ve put something back, and removes it from your virtual basket accordingly.

Interestingly, the system doesn’t need to 'tag' items (for instance, with radio frequency markers) to track them, and it doesn’t even need to scan any barcodes. It’s all done based on what the cameras and other sensors pick up – which makes it all a very sophisticated form of computer vision.

So just like a regular supermarket, you can stroll around Amazon Go and fill up your shopping bag, but unlike a regular supermarket, there’s no need to queue up and check out at the end. You simply walk out, and you’ll be automatically billed for the goods you’ve taken.

The store doesn’t completely run itself - there are human staff working in Amazon Go, but their main roles are restocking shelves, preparing fresh food and helping customers. If you’re buying alcohol, you’ll need to be age-verified by a human attendant too.

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Is Amazon Go the future of supermarkets?

Right now, Amazon Go is a one-off: the company hasn’t yet announced any plans to start opening new branches around the USA and beyond. But the level of technology at work here suggests it’s much more than a mere publicity stunt, too – and if the trial proves successful, there’s every reason to think they’ll expand, and other retailers could begin adopting the idea. Let's not forget - it didn’t take long for self-checkouts to take off.

The Amazon Go trademark has been registered in the UK, suggesting Amazon may already have an eye on a British location. Again, it wouldn’t be the first time: Amazon test-ran its drone delivery service in Cambridge, and trialled services like AmazonFresh here in the past too.

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