Got your attention, right? After five years of development and fourteen months of testing, Amazon opened a new, cashier-less Amazon Go grocery/convenience store in downtown Seattle on January 22. There is no waiting in checkout lines because there are no lines–and no cashiers.
In order to shop, customers must download the Amazon Go app on their cell phones, connect it to their Amazon account and choose a payment method. A QR code is generated, and the customer scans it at a station located at the front of the store. Once the customer is scanned in, multiple sensors and cameras throughout the store tracks items that the customer takes off the shelf. All prices are posted on the shelf. Items selected are automatically charged to the customer when they leave the store.
Amazon has described the technologies in the store as “computer vision, sensor fusion and deep learning.” The system not only tracks people in the store, it also associates the customer with what they buy. Accuracy is critical to be sure the system identifies the right customer selecting the right product. It could be tough to do in a very crowded environment but, so far, it seems to be working.
All the data collected allows Amazon to figure out what products are bought at what time and what is the optimum location of the product in the store. There is much speculation as to whether or not Amazon will migrate this system to Whole Foods. And, Amazon may be first, but they are not alone. Walmart is rumored to be working on a similar concept. The industry is abuzz.
But wait. What does loss prevention look like in a cashier-less environment? An honest customer has to download an app and “sign in” at a station so they can shop and be charged for their purchases. What if they “shop” and don’t sign in?
Amazon Go VP Gianna Peurini told CNBC “accidental shoplifting happens so rarely that we didn’t even bother building in a feature for customers to tell us it happened.” The fact that there isn’t even a feature to tell Amazon something has been taken is interesting. It says that the company is so confident in its system that it hasn’t developed protocols to safeguard against missing items. In addition, Amazon apparently isn’t distinguishing against between those customers who “accidentally” steal and those who are definitely trying to steal.
It appears that Amazon is counting on the fact that the majority of customers are honest, and huge sales more than make up for some losses. With all of the cameras and sensors in the store, all but the boldest of shoplifters may be deterred. But, then again, what about organized retail crime? With one test store, maybe it’s not a huge concern. What happens if the concept explodes and becomes a model for shopping in the future? Who knows?
To that point, it will be interesting to see how the public adopts this concept and how profitable it is for Amazon. After all, ten years ago it was predicted that self-checkout stations would “revolutionize” retail. Many studies have shown that self-checkout has not been all it was cracked up to be in terms of shrink, throughput and labor savings. Instead of expanding the technology, a lot of retailers have bypassed the concept entirely, and others are removing systems already installed.
Not to mention, with Amazon’s new concept, there is always the fear of “Big Brother” watching our every move.
Time will tell for Amazon Go. It should be interesting.