Amazon may not always get dragged onto the hot seat the way Google or Facebook do, but when it does, it does so in a very big way. After all, the world’s biggest e-tailer is anything but meek when it comes to business, having no qualms about putting its competitors out of that business. In just a few hours, Amazon will be opening wide Amazon Go, it’s ambitious attempt to revolutionize and modernize convenience stores. And if it becomes a raging hit, it could pretty much rock that industry to its core.
Amazon Go is more like 7-eleven and less like a Walmart. Its selection of products mostly revolves around food, like sandwiches, drinks, salads, and even some ready to eat meals. Thanks to its recent acquisition of Whole Foods, there will also be some items from its 365 Everyday Value brands, like chips and nuts. And, yes, there will also be alcohol inside.
Of course, Amazon Go won’t be your normal convenience store. Considering this is Amazon, there will always be an element of technology, automation, and machine learning involved. And its own shopping platform, naturally. This comes via the biggest advertised benefit of Amazon Go: no more checkout lines.
The process is simple, at least in theory. Before you go to the store, you first need to download the Amazon Go app, now available on Google Play Store and Apple App Store, and log into your Amazon account. Upon entering, you get your phone scanned. You then go about your business, picking up supplies and items and putting them in your cart. Then when you’re done, you simply walk out of the store and your Amazon account is automatically charged.
This seemingly magical and futuristic shopping process is made possible by a variety of technologies, both hardware and software. Cameras and sensors watch you and identify the items you take out of the shelf. There are systems that connect to your phone to add the items to your Amazon shopping cart. And all will, of course, make use of Amazon’s cloud services, machine learning, and computer vision.
While it sounds great in theory and actually works well in controlled tests, that may not immediately translate to everyday business hours. Having potentially dozens of customers shopping at the same time, picking up then dropping products again in wrong places, and all the other variables connected to human whimsy, and you’ve got a recipe for the ultimate system stress test. Expect there to be some growing pains, errors, and flared tempers in the coming days.
But should Amazon succeed, it might have another winner like its AWS. While the retailer does seem to have plans on setting up brick and mortar stores elsewhere, it might be more profitable for it to license the technology for other convenience store chains. And maybe, in the future, expand it to even more chaotic checkout lines, like supermarkets.