Amazon opened its first Amazon Go mini-market in Seattle on Monday, 22 January. A new kind of convenience store – think 7-Eleven with the upmarket feel of a Woolworths food shop – it offers a revolutionary way of transacting.
According to the New York Times the futuristic shop gives you the impression of entering a subway station because “a row of gates guard the entrance to the store, known as Amazon Go, allowing in only people with the store’s smartphone app.”
Once inside, the shop has the regular selection of pre-packed sandwiches, cool drinks (including liquor), other ready-made meals, fruit, vegetables and junk food. However what is very irregular is the amount of surveillance that you are under. It’s not just a case of a couple of sets of security cameras positioned in the corners, but instead hundreds of infra-red, ceiling-mounted cameras and electronic sensors on the shelves analyse your every move.
The information is used to identify customers and what they purchase.The system was tested and trained using Amazon employees over the period of a year, to differentiate between customers as they move around the store, and between items for sale, picking up subtle differences, such as different flavours of the same canned drink.
Now fully up and running, whatever items you pick up are added to your Amazon Go account and are deleted if you put them back. It’s similar in essance to adding things to your cart when online shopping and then removing them before checkout. The Amazon Go account is linked to your credit card and Amazon encourages you to ‘just walk out’ and an electronic receipt is issued when you exit. No more check-out queues.
The shop opened in December 2016 to staff members to test but according to BBC news, “there were some teething problems with correctly identifying shoppers of similar body types – and children moving items to the wrong places on shelves, according to an Amazon insider.”
Amazon is remaining mum on how accurate the system is or whether it will open more Go stores, but would-be shoplifters beware: a New York Times journalist tested the system by trying to sneak out some cans of a soft drink, however, Amazon Go wasn’t fooled and added the items to his bill.