In a move that could revolutionise the way we buy groceries, Amazon opens its first supermarket without checkouts, human or self-service to shoppers.
Amazon Go, in Seattle, USA has been tested by staff for the past year. It uses hundreds of ceiling-mounted cameras and electronic sensors to identify each customer and track what items they select. Purchases are billed to customers’ credit cards when leaving the store.
On entering the store, shoppers walk through gates similar to those in the London underground, swiping their smartphones loaded with the Amazon Go app, and are free to put any of the sandwiches, salads, drinks and biscuits on the shelves straight into their own shopping bags.
There’s no need for a trolley or basket since you won’t be unpacking it again at the till. In fact, unless you need to be ID-checked for an alcohol purchase, there’s also no need for any human interaction at all.
With the help of sensors on the shelves, items are added to customers’ Amazon Go account as they pick them up – and delete any they put back. An electronic receipt is also issued as they exit.
The store opened to employees of the online retail giant in December 2016, However, there was some problem with correctly identifying shoppers of similar body types, the moving of items to the wrong places on shelves, according to an Amazon insider. Aside from the technology, the shop is a conventional food store
Gianna Puerini, head of Amazon Go, said the store had operated well during the test phase: “This technology didn’t exist, it was really advancing the state of the art of computer vision and machine learning.”
How does it work?
Grab-and-go shopping has been the “future of retail” for some time now.
But now Amazon believes its time has come or at least that it is ready for real-world testing.
It will be called “Just walk out” and while they won’t spill the beans on just how it works, they say it uses “computer vision, deep learning algorithms and sensor fusion, much like you’d find in a self-driving car”. You scan a QR code as you enter. After that, your phone can go back in your pocket. Amazon isn’t offering any information on how accurate the system is.
One thing we do know: they’re on to the less-than-honest. A New York Times journalist had a go at shoplifting some cans of soft drink, but the system spotted it and put them on his bill.
Amazon has not said if it will be opening more Go stores, which are separate from the Whole Foods chain that it bought last year for $13.7bn (£10.7bn).
As yet the company has no plans to introduce the technology to the hundreds of Whole Foods stores.
However, retailers know that the faster customers can make their purchases, the more likely they are to return.
Making the dreaded supermarket queue a thing of the past will give any retailer a huge advantage over its competitors.
Brian Olsavsky, Amazon chief financial officer, recently hinted that rivals should expect more Amazon shops in the months and years ahead.
“You will see more expansion from us – it’s still early, so those plans will develop over time,” he said in October.
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