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Last year you probably heard about Amazon Go when it opened in Seattle. This is a store where you install an App on your smartphone, go to the store, use a barcode the App shows to open the turnstile to get into the store, just take what you want off the shelves (and even put things back if you change your mind), then walk out. There is no cashier. "Just Walk Out Shopping" Amazon calls it.
There are now two Amazon Go stores in San Francisco, so I decided to go and check one of them out (the one on California Street, although I presume the other is the same). Installing the App is like setting up something like Uber. You download the App, log into your Amazon account, and select which credit card you want it to use. And that's it.
With a blog called Breakfast Bytes, it was obviously time to go and buy breakfast the modern way. 24-hour diners are so last century.
When you get to the store, there are gates that are opened by the QR code that the App shows on your screen. I think this serves two purposes: one is to stop people who are not enrolled from walking in, taking stuff, and then walking out without being able to be charged. The second is that if you are with anyone, you can let them in with your QR code, and anything they pick up goes on your order.
Once you are in the store, you wander around and grab whatever you want. If you change your mind, you just put the item back on the shelf. The one thing you have to be careful not to do is grab an item for someone else (other than people who came in on your QR code) since it will be charged to you, not the person you grabbed it for. I have to say that the technology is very non-obtrusive, there is no sense of big brother watching you shop.
When you have everything you want, then you walk out. There is another gate to walk through, but you don't need to scan anything, it is there just to stop anyone bypassing the entry gates. There are no cashiers. In fact, the only employee I saw was in front of the entry gates to help you download the App and set it up if you haven't already done that (I did it at home before I went to the city).
A few minutes later your receipt is available in the App. It even has a picture of each item. Of course, the total has been charged to your credit card. I only bought half-a-dozen items, but the invoice was 100% correct.
Here's a video of me grabbing the last couple of items and walking out of the store, to show you just how smoothly it all operates.
There are currently 9 Amazon Go stores: 4 in Seattle, 3 in Chicago, and 2 in San Francisco (at California & Battery, and Post & Kearny). Amazon is rumored to be planning thousands of Amazon Go stores across the US.
You probably know that Amazon owns Whole Foods, so an obvious question is whether they plan to introduce this technology there. Apart from scaling to bigger stores and more items, they need some way of handling individually priced items (like meat, where perhaps they can read the barcodes from a distance) and items you pick yourself (like produce, which need to be weighed, although for a lot of items like apples, just counting them might be close enough).
An article in the Wall Street Journal in December said they were rumored to be testing it out for larger stores. Although both Amazon and Whole Foods refused to comment, so this is pretty speculative.
Microsoft and Kroger, which is the US's biggest grocery chain by revenue, are also working on similar technology. They also have a digital shelving system (prices are little displays) that they give the over-cute acronym EDGE for Enhanced Display for Grocery Environment. Venture Beat says that the partners are currently operating the automated grocery system in two test stores, but that they will roll it out as Retail-as-a-Service (RaaS) to others, not keep it as proprietary to Kroger.
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