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Amazon’s Grocery Store Doesn’t Have a Single Checkout

You can simply scan your phone, pick your food up off the shelf, and walk out.
December 5, 2016

No cash? No time to wait? No wish to stand in close proximity to another human? No problem, says Amazon, which has announced a new store that makes use of sensing and artificial intelligence to do away with the checkout altogether.

There’s just one shop so far, in Amazon’s hometown of Seattle. Called Amazon Go, its modest 1,800 square feet of retail space has a very time-poor kind of customer in mind. There are ready-to-eat meals, basic groceries, and meal kits to cook at home lining its shelves.

But the experience of buying goods from this store is certainly not one for the privacy advocates among us. Upon arrival, you have to scan an app to pass through the entrance—like you do with a digital boarding pass. From this point on, it knows you’re there, and can keep track of what you do.

Amazon says that the store uses on-shelf sensing and computer vision to keep track of every item that you pick up, adding each one to a list to charge you for later. (Though it can also remove items when it sees you put them back). When you leave, it double-checks the list by detecting the items you’re removing from the store.

Then it charges your Amazon account, leaving you to eat your sandwich without having to stand in line for a single moment. This, it seems, is how people shop in the future.

The Amazon Go store uses on-shelf sensing and computer vision to keep track of every item that you pick up.

It joins a history of attempts to automate the grocery store. Keedoozle tried its luck in 1937 with a system of conveyor belts, glass cabinets, and personalized keys to remove people from the process, though it shut down when its back-end couldn’t support its popularity.

Earlier this year, a supermarket in Sweden opened that uses an app to grant access to customers, though it demands people scan barcodes via their phone—essentially working on a tech-enabled trust model, with CCTV as backup.

Amazon looks to be running a much tighter ship. While finding ways to circumvent the system may appeal to hackers, it sounds as if most ordinary folks would find themselves unable to cheat a system bristling with sensors and cameras that monitor shoppers’ every move.

If it works as advertised, lifting products off the shelves and simply walking out may become the new way to shop (as opposed to shoplift)—part of Amazon’s bet on the idea that delivering unparalleled convenience will keep customers coming back.

(Read more: “Amazon's Next Big Move: Take Over the Mall,” Amazon Go, “Amazon Wants to Disrupt the Bodega”)

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