Is Amazon Go the Future of Retail IoT?

January 29, 2018 - 4 minutes read

Everyone’s familiar with waiting lines in retail; whether you’re shopping for groceries or clothing, you’ve probably stood around far longer than you ever wanted for your turn to make a purchase. Amazon’s new convenience store does away with this arduous errand altogether, and it may end up becoming the future of retail.

Redefining ‘Convenience’

Amazon Go, the latest retail foray from the Seattle developer/e-commerce/cloud computing/all-around tech titan, made its debut in the downtown area of their home turf last week. First-time visitors were greeted by a row of turnstile gates that only opened if you had the store’s mobile app downloaded.

Upon entrance of the 1,800 sq. ft. store, nothing out of the ordinary sticks out right away. The aisles are lined with the usual foods you’d find at many other grocery markets, most noticeably Whole Foods, the supermarket supergiant recently acquired by Amazon.

But as you look closer, you notice there are no shopping carts, baskets, cashiers, or registers in sight. Patrons simply take their desired purchases off the shelves and put them in their shopping bag. They’re then free to leave the store through the same turnstiles they came in. And that’s it. Strange, right? You’re not the only one who thinks so.

Making Shopping Seamless

While it’s not readily apparent at first glance, the mixture of the Internet of Things (IoT) and artificial intelligence (AI) development is the real star of the experience. Hundreds of cameras hang above the store aisles. Utilizing machine learning and computer vision, these cameras are capable of seeing and identifying every item on every shelf without a need for a tracking chip.

When you place an item in your shopping bag, Amazon puts that product in your mobile app account’s shopping cart. If you put it back, Amazon removes it. When you walk out, you receive an electronic receipt a few minutes later for the items in your bag.

Many first-timers have echoed the opinion that this feels a little too much like shoplifting. But in reality, Amazon’s AI-powered system has made security air-tight. If you wrap an item on the shelf with your shopping bag, then remove it from the shelf, you’ll still be charged for the item upon leaving, even if the cameras didn’t see you explicitly take the item off the shelf.

A New Era of Retail?

Of course, Amazon’s new experience has left many wondering what the future will be like for those in the retail industry, or if there will even be one. Similar to automation’s impact on warehouses, Amazon believes that no jobs will be lost; rather; the roles of those jobs are shifting.

Gianna Puerini, Vice President of Amazon Go, sees it this way: “We’ve just put associates on different kinds of tasks where we think it adds to the customer experience.” You can still find employees at Amazon Go, usually fulfilling the usual duties of restocking and customer assistance. There’s even one checking I.D.s in the alcohol section so no minors walk off with any. You just won’t find employees ringing you up anymore.

Amazon’s been secretive about its plans for this system outside of Amazon Go. It won’t even discuss whether more Amazon Go locations are in the works. Some speculate that they may sell this technology to other retailers, but this has not been confirmed either. In the future, you may be able to walk out of any store with an item to buy it, but for now, you’ll have to make the trek to Seattle to experience it first-hand.

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