Inside the 1,800-square foot store packed with shelves of food that can you find in a lot of other convenience stores, there’s something unusual that hits you right at the front door. If one didn’t know any better, they’d say the store feels less like a supermarket chain and more like a subway. The technology that is inside, far away from the sight of its customers, delivers a seamless shopping experience. There are no registers or cashiers anywhere. Shoppers can only enter the gates if they have the store’s smartphone app, and leave through those same gates, without pausing to pull out their wallet. No actual cash is handed over. No credit card is swiped. What kind of store does that? This is Amazon Go, the company’s checkout-less convenience store in Seattle.
On January 22, 2018, the store opened to the public for the first time. There are no shopping carts or baskets inside Amazon Go. Instead, you drop items directly into the shopping bag you'll eventually walk out with. A ceiling of overhead surveillance cameras monitors everything you pick and drop into your shopping bag. The product is automatically put into the shopping cart of your virtual basket every time they grab an item off a shelf. If customers put the item back on the shelf, Amazon removes it from their online account.
One reviewer compared it to the size of a gas station mart. As far as Amazon Go’s offerings, the shelves are stocked with packaged, ready to eat lunches and snacks, prepared by a kitchen team in the back of the store. For more substantial meals, customers can browse through a selection of boxed, meal-kits. In addition, customers can buy drinks or convenience store-like items such as jars of peanut butter, eggs, or milk. Since Amazon’s acquisition of Whole Foods, it should come as no surprise that the Amazon Go store has a small sector where they sell 365, the in-house brand.
The store is designed for office workers looking for some variety than the office cafeteria, minus the hassle of a debit transaction. Those are precious seconds that could be spent sending out tweets from the phone.
Future of Shopping or Impulse Purchase?
We knew the day that first Amazon box showed up on the doorstep that the future of shopping is here. But do we really need checkout-free stores? We don’t, but retailers certainly do. According to Cornell University, when people use any abstract form of payment, they spend more. Moreover, the type of products they choose changes too.
When we go into a store, one of the first things we do is ask ourselves, “How much cash do I have on me? Do I have enough to pay for the items I am buying?” When you pay with a card, this disappears. We go on an impulse purchase-mode. If we see a cookie or a doughnut, and we’re paying with an abstract method, we’re more likely to buy it.
When there won’t be a checkout line, you pause at the checkout and suddenly think, ‘Should I be buying this?’ Or when you’re paying cash, that question pops up at the very beginning. This will disappear with Amazon Go. The checkout-free experience will only result in more impulse shopping and overspending.
The good thing is we’ll have all those pies and doughnuts to console us when we realize that the new shopping experience comes at a cost.
We’ve seen self-checkout convenience stores before, but nothing as advanced as the Amazon Go. The sophisticated technology can see and identify each and every item in the store, without attaching a special chip. What Amazon has created is incredible, but what the long-term plan is for this huge investment is still unknown.
How well the store works over time will become apparent over the coming months. A big question is, how much it costs. Outfitting a panel of surveillance camera would not be cheap. For comparison, a current four-lane self-service supermarket set up costs upwards of $125,000, and the Amazon Go is infrastructure is definitely more complicated.
This doesn’t mean that Amazon’s checkout free store eliminates staffing cost entirely. You still need humans to restock shelves, prepare café offerings, and a customer help desk for returns and problems. Amazon Go store in Seattle has even hired someone to stand next to the alcohol section and check identification.
Amazon is definitely an interesting experience, however, it is still cheaper for humans to run convenience stores. There are millions of people who work in similar roles in the United States. What happens when more stores pop up that eliminate the human experience?
“I do a lot of my work telecommuting, and so the only interaction I have during the day is with whoever is ringing me up,” says Sheila, a copywriter at an ad agency. “I don’t think we should discount those interactions.”
It’s incredibly interesting to human lives become hassle-free as technology is advancing quickly to rid us of most problems like long, stressful checkout lines. Is it worth the ability to rid us of whatever little human interaction we have in a day?
After a year of testing, the Amazon Go store is officially open to the public. Is this the way we are to shop in the future? Has cashless shopping taken over the world yet? I guess we’ll have to wait and see.