For the past year, Amazon employees have been test driving Amazon Go, an experimental convenience store in downtown Seattle. The idea is to let consumers walk in, pick up items and then pay for them without ever standing in line at a cashier. Amazon is vague on the mechanics, but the store relies on a mobile app and some of the same sensing technology that powers self-driving cars to figure out who is buying what.
Employees have tried to fool the technology. One day, three enterprising Amazonians donned bright yellow Pikachu costumes and cruised around grabbing sandwiches, drinks and snacks. The algorithms nailed it, according to a person familiar with the situation, correctly identifying the employees and charging their Amazon accounts, even though they were obscured behind yellow polyester.
Amazon Go represents Amazon.com Inc.’s most ambitious effort yet to transform the brick-and-mortar shopping experience by eliminating the checkout line, saving customers time and furthering the company’s reputation for convenience.
The push into groceries is a way for the company to get consumers to shop at Amazon more often. In September, the e-commerce giant acquired Whole Foods Market for $13.7 billion and has been cutting prices at the upscale grocery chain to drive traffic. On Wednesday, Whole Foods began offering deep discounts on Thanksgiving merchandise, including antibiotic-free turkeys, and signaled that the markdowns will get more aggressive as it adopts Amazon’s Prime subscription service. Shares at Kroger and Sprouts tumbled after the announcement.
Amazon unveiled Amazon Go last December, saying it planned to open the store to the public early this year. However, the company encountered technical difficulties and postponed the launch to work out the bugs, The Wall Street Journal reported in March.
Seven months later, challenges remain, but the “just walk out” technology has improved markedly, says the person, who requested anonymity to speak freely about the project. And in a sign that the concept is almost ready for prime time, hiring for the Amazon Go team has shifted from the engineers and research scientists needed to perfect the platform to the construction managers and marketers who would build and promote the stores to consumers.