Up until now, it hasn’t been immediately clear why Amazon spent $US13 billion buying the Whole Foods supermarket chain in the US last year or opened a handful of its own stores.
Now, it’s glaringly obvious.
Today Amazon opened its first store to the public that uses its “just walk out” technology.
The Amazon Go store in Seattle, which is described as the size of a 7/11 convenience shop, features no cashiers.
Instead, you just pull items off the shelves and, when you’re finished shopping, just walk out the door.
The proprietary technology is based on an Amazon Go app, which you download to your phone, then swipe as you walk in through a turnstile.
Hundreds of cameras and shelf-sensors then monitor you as you shop, backed by a tonne of computing power. If you pick up an item, Amazon Go adds it to your account. If you put it back, it subtracts it.
If you're a privacy fanatic, this is obviously not the technology for you. But the payoff – no checkout queues – is rather brilliant (although, ironically, the novelty and hype of today's opening caused queues outside the "non-queue" store.
I’m in Seattle and there is currently a line to shop at the grocery store whose entire premise is that you won’t have to wait in line. pic.twitter.com/fWr80A0ZPV
— Ryan Petersen (@typesfast) January 22, 2018
The Amazon Go launch has been delayed several times after an extended staff trial (the first store borders Amazon’s headquarters) and the company has indicated it doesn’t plan to extend it beyond its pilot any time soon. That indicates it's pretty tricky, even for a company with such resources.
Still, once it does go into wide release – presumably at Whole Food supermarkets – it will turn bricks-and-mortar retail on its head in the same way Amazon’s one-click checkout revolutionised e-tail, or Uber or Airbnb turned the taxi and accommodation markets on their heads.
And no doubt it will be patent-protected, too, giving Amazon several years' jump on the pack as per its patented one-click shopping online.
Amazon’s relatively low-key pre-Christmas launch in Australia has perhaps lulled local retailers into a false sense of confidence. Today’s Amazon Go launch is more evidence it shouldn’t.
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