Amazon Opens First “Go” Workerless Retail Store in Seattle

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Amazon has opened its first “Amazon Go” retail store — an automated, workerless convenience store in Seattle. The store allows people to shop without checkouts, queues and other common retail annoyances, with customers simply walking out after filling their shopping baskets.

The cashier-less store concept was announced by Amazon in late 2016, with the new Seattle store finally opening to the wider public this month. On opening day, more than 100 customers queued around the corner to enter the cashier-less convenience store.

Instead of the traditional checkouts and cashiers, Amazon’s Go store uses hundreds of sensors and cameras to automatically detect the items a customer has purchased. This allows the store to automatically track customer purchases, eliminating the need for a conventional checkout.

The first store, which covers approximately 1,800 square feet and includes a large selection of groceries, is built into Amazon’s Seattle corporate headquarters. The store has been in a beta testing period for one year, but only recently opened to the general public.

Products include a range of wine and beer, salads, juices and a range of lunch options. Amazon reportedly visualized the store as a place for local workers to quickly pop in for lunch without the typical annoyances of rush hour shopping.

When a customer enters the store, their movement is tracked by an expensive network of CCTV cameras in the store’s ceiling. Products are tracked by sensors, with each purchase recorded in the store’s database. Instead of paying in cash, customers are billed using the Amazon Go app.

The store has attracted praise from technology enthusiasts for its innovative approach to retail shopping, although some fear Amazon Go could be a case of technology gone too far.

In an article for the New Yorker, Sheelah Kolhatkar noted that Amazon’s use of automation in its retail stores could potentially threaten American retail workers.

Daron Acemoglu, an economist at M.I.T. who specializes in automation and its effects on labor, noted that while Amazon Go is “not going to lead to wholesale replacement of all the workers,” it’s potentially a sign of things to come in the retail industry.

Almost five million people throughout the USA are employed in retail. While there’s already an extensive level of automation in the retail field — for example, self-checkout technology — it’s a small development compared to the potential impact of Amazon Go.

Still, shoppers seem unconcerned. At the launch of the first Amazon Go store in Seattle, queues extended far outside the store, with well over 100 people queueing at any one time for a chance to experience Amazon’s future vision of the retail industry.

Throughout the store, signs saying “Just Walk Out” are a common sight, catching customers — even those familiar with the store’s concept — by surprise.

And despite concern about Amazon Go’s impact on retail workers, the store itself was fairly well staffed, with clerks directing customers throughout the store and workers busily restocking store shelves and, for customers purchasing alcohol, checking IDs.

John Richardson
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