The way in which we purchase groceries could change forever with Amazon’s new supermarket, which features no checkout operators or self-service tills.
Amazon Go, the new store that uses hundreds of ceiling-mounted cameras and electronic sensors to identify each customer and the items they select opened to the public on Monday in Seattle.
The way the store works is upon entering, shoppers go through gates like the ones in the London Underground, instead of swiping an oyster card, they swipe their smartphones loaded with the Amazon Go app. They can then put whatever they like into their shopping bags. Then when customers leave the store with their groceries, purchases are billed to their credit cards.
Apart from if you need to be ID-checked for alcohol, there is no need for any human interaction at all in these stores.
Sensors that are featured on the shelves are the key to this checkout less experience. As customers pick items up, they are automatically added to their Amazon Go accounts, if they change their mind, putting the items back deletes them from their shopping list, and as they leave the store an electronic receipt is issued.
Originally the shop was due to open to the public in December 2016, but according to Amazon insider teething problems with the sensors correctly identifying shoppers of similar body types and children moving items to the wrong places on shelves caused this date to be pushed back.
Future of Retail
When envisioning the future of retail, grab-and-go shopping is what springs to mind for most people, and now Amazon believes its time is here.
Although Amazon won’t reveal exactly how it works, it apparently uses computer vision, sensor fusion, and deep learning algorithms, much like the technology that you’d find in a self-driving car.
By using Amazon employees as guinea pigs, hundreds of infra-red ceiling cameras have been trained over the past year to differentiate between similar items for sale, such as different flavours of the same canned drink and customers moving around the store.
The shelves also feature weight sensors which help indicate if an item has been taken or put back and some of the items carry a visual dot code, like a barcode to help cameras identify them.
The system has already proven it can spot shoplifters as the system picked up a journalist attempting to shoplift some cans of soft drink.
Expanding the Tech
Amazon bought the Whole Foods chain last year for $13.7bn (£10.7bn) but have not announced any plans yet to introduce the technology to these stores.
However, retailers know that this technology will be of great benefit, as the faster that customers can make their purchases, the more likely they are to return. It will also allow queues to become a thing of the past, giving any retailer that makes use of the technology a massive advantage over its competitors.
The new Go store is not the first time Amazon has dabbled in brick and mortar retailing, with the firm opening their first physical bookshop in 2015. They have 13 of these stores open across the US as well as dozens of temporary pop-up outlets.
Amazon put a figure on revenues generated from physical stores in its third quarter in October at $1.28bn – although much of this was generated by Whole Foods. While their physical stores haven’t made that much, analysts have said Amazon is using them to raise brand awareness and promote its Prime membership scheme.