Amazon Go Store Changes The Retail Shopping Game By Doing Away With Checkout Lines

Ever wished you could just walk out of store without paying for stuff? Well, now you can. Sort of.

By Jeff Vasishta December 5, 2016
Photo courtesy of Amazon

And you thought self-service checkouts at supermarkets was cool. Looks like Amazon has flipped the script on the whole grocery shopping experience by doing away with lines and checkout counters. That’s right, no dealing with the huffing and puffing of other shoppers in line when your bar code doesn’t scan. No signing your name on the electronic keypad and seeing it resemble treble clef. And no wondering what ethical use you can possibly have for the dozens of plastic bags you paid for when you forgot your recyclable holdalls.

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Amazon has achieved this magical feat by using terms you may have only heard on the Sci Fi channel—computer vision, deep learning algorithms and sensor fusion—or, as Amazon prefers to brand it, “just walk out technology”. Basically, you walk into a store with your Amazon card and, amazingly, the store figures out what you are picking up from the shelves and charges your account accordingly. You just walk right out. Think of it as an E-Z Pass for shoppers.

The futuristic grocery store will undoubtedly have all other chains scrambling to update its technology—while checkout cashiers all over the world will be getting worried. The first store is located near Amazon’s headquarters in Seattle and is only opened to Amazon employees—but is expected to venture further afield next year. It marks the continuing evolution of the mainly online company from laptops to high streets.

In many ways, the physical book store that Amazon opened last year was a natural extension from its website, which started out as an online bookstore. The grocery business, though, marks an aggressive expansion for the online retailer, which has also branched out into home electronics and film making. It utilizes Amazon’s considerable reach with consumers, most of whom have an Amazon account, and thus could be marketed to with far more specificity than with other retailers.

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“Four years ago we asked ourselves: What if we could create a shopping experience with no lines and no checkout? Could we push the boundaries of computer vision and machine learning to create a store where customers could simply take what they want and go?” The company says on an informational page about Amazon Go.

While the announcement of the store was questioned by reporters at Quartz and The Wall Street Journal for the “millions of cashier jobs” it could endanger, Rogers McNamee, co-founder of technology investment firm Elevation Partners (his partner being U2’s Bono,) saw it differently.

“I think this is part of a continuum that began a number of years ago when folks like Home Depot, and then CVS and Albertsons, Wal-Mart and others have experimented with self-checkout,” McNamee said on CNBC. “And that has been a mixed experience. … These things have all had rough moments, and the consumer experience has been everywhere from fantastic — for the person who otherwise would have been in line for a long time — to just dreadful. And I don’t think it’s been as good for the companies as they’d like to think. Amazon’s model …. is way more consumer friendly, so I really do hope it works,” McNamee said. “I think this is another example of Amazon really pushing the envelope in really interesting ways.”

Amazon’s foray to the high street could have dramatic repercussions for real estate. Clearly, non-perishable goods are best sold online but if consumers also like the convenience and cost (remember—no cashiers to pay for) of buying groceries and other supermarket items with one account, then other chains and superstores such as Walmart may fail to keep pace, making Amazon a dominant force online and off.

Watch this space.

Jeff Vasishta



Jeff is a writer, husband and father but not necessarily in that order. As a music journalist he counts Prince, Beyonce and Quincy Jones amongst those he’s interviewed. He's also owned and flipped homes in Brooklyn, NJ, CT and PA.

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