Amazon seems to have captured the market for textbooks, online shopping, and home automation, so now it’s turning its sights to a new area: retail stores. The company recently announced Amazon Go, a store with no checkout required. Instead of waiting in line to pay, Amazon will employ a strategy it calls “Just Walk Out” shopping, potentially revolutionizing the shopping world.
No Checkout Lines
Amazon’s innovative idea aims to get rid of the checkout line, widely recognized as one of the most frustrating parts of in-store shopping. Amazon will use deep-learning cloud technology, computer vision, and sensor fusion – a powerful combination that has been in development for four years. To use the store, customers will simply launch the Go app, shop for what they want, and head out of the store. The sensors and technology will track which items leave the store with that customer, and their Amazon account will be charged automatically.
Amazon hasn’t laid out exact details as to how the store’s technology actually works, but outside experts say the technology is definitely feasible given recent developments in sensors, artificial intelligence, and machine learning.
Amazon will test the idea with a 1,800 square foot grocery store in downtown Seattle that is currently only available to Amazon employees in beta testing. The store sells mostly grocery essentials and ‘grab and go’ meal options from local chefs and will open to the public in 2017. According to Amazon, the technology is proven and the trial is more to test how the store reads with urban shoppers. Leaked internal documents show that Amazon could eventually open up to 2,000 retail stores across the U.S.
Amazon has a good track record of popular ideas. However, they sometimes take a while to catch on. For example, Amazon Prime wasn’t considered a viable shopping solution when it debuted in 2005, but it now has more than 50 million members.
However, critics point out that Amazon has a history of announcing attention-getting projects right before the holidays, like when it announced drone deliveries last year. Some people are skeptical if the store will ever make it past beta testing. “Grocery retail is a crowded sector, and customers have incredibly high expectations of the Amazon brand,” said Natalie Berg, Retail Analyst.”If they’re going to differentiate, they’ll need to translate the fantastic customer experience that they have created online in a physical store setting. This is no easy feat. Removing the traditional checkout process does exactly that.”
Amazon has already had a huge impact in the retail space by transforming how we shop online and interact with products and delivery. If Amazon Go proves successful, the company’s reach could again be felt in the bricks and mortar space by completely changing how customers think about the in-store shopping experience. There’s the question of how the technology will affect the prices of goods in the store; IBM has already tried a checkout free store with similar technology but had to abandon the idea because the sensors were too expensive. There are obviously still logistical issues to work out, such as paying for weight-based items like produce, but the basic idea of line-less shopping could potentially catch on.
There’s also the threat that Amazon Go could eliminate many jobs, like cashiers and customer service representatives. As technology develops in other areas like delivery, manufacturing, or customer service, jobs are already being eliminated, which makes the prospect of Amazon Go even more daunting to potential job hunters.
Amazon’s innovative experiments across the online and retail space have been mostly successful, but Amazon Go could be its biggest test yet. If the idea proves successful, the entire retail shopping experience could be forever changed.