I shopped at Amazon's new cutting-edge convenience store, and now I'm convinced it's the future of retail — for better or for worse

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When I was in Seattle earlier this week, I knew I had to swing by its newest can’t-miss shopping destination: Amazon Go, the online retailer’s vision for the convenience store of the future.

Amazon Go, which opened to the public in January, comes with the bold promise of no lines, no cash registers, and no checking out. You just grab what you want, and you … go. Oh, I get the name now.

I put Amazon Go through its paces and found that the technology, which relies on cameras and other sensors to track your every move, works extremely well. On two visits, I couldn’t manage to fool the system, and I did indeed walk right out with my purchases.

It’s probably the future of retail. It’s also a somewhat worrisome reminder of how artificial intelligence is going to wreak havoc on traditional ideas of employment.

Here’s what it’s like to shop at Amazon Go, the convenience store of the future:


After just over a year of employees-only testing, Amazon finally opened its Amazon Go convenience store in Seattle in January. When it did, there were lines just to get in.

Shutterstock/PeterVandenbelt

That wasn’t the case when I visited earlier this week. What was funny, though, was seeing tour buses stopping and letting people off to go in.

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It doesn’t hurt that this first Amazon Go store is based in Amazon’s Day 1 skyscraper headquarters, next to the Amazon Spheres.


The whole point of Amazon Go is that there are no lines, no cashiers, and no waiting. Those turnstiles you see here are the closest things to cash registers — you scan your phone as you walk in, and that’s pretty much it.

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To get started, you need the Amazon Go app for Android or iPhone, plus an Amazon account. It generates a barcode that you need to get in — kind of like scanning an aeroplane boarding pass from your phone, if you’ve ever done that.

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No, you can’t use this barcode to log me in. The app automatically scrambles the barcode when you take a screenshot, so you can’t have multiple people shopping on your account all at once. At least, Amazon says it does.


The Amazon Go store is pretty small. And truth be told, it looks a lot like any other upscale-ish convenience store.

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Here’s the idea: As you shop, you just take whatever you want. The store tracks what you pick up and what you put back.

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You can scan your family and friends in with you, but then whatever they pick up gets charged to your account, so be cautious.

Another unexpected caveat: If another shopper asks you to help them get something off a shelf, don’t do it! You’ll be charged for whatever you pick up, even if another person walks out with it.


When you’re done, just boogie back through those turnstiles, and you’ll get charged for whatever you ended up with. Is it really that easy? I knew I had to give it a whirl.

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It carries normal convenience-store stuff, from beverages …

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… to travel-size toiletries …

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… to frozen foods and Amazon-branded meal kits.

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It also carries a selection of microwavable meals, which it says are made fresh in an on-site kitchen. And yes, there are microwaves on the premises for people to use. At $US8 a meal, it’s not the cheapest, but it’s also not the most expensive option in Seattle.

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If you’re dying to buy a souvenir, there are mugs …

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… and reusable shopping bags that are free, at least for a limited time. It’s a memento that’s useful <i>and</i> cost-effective.

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I only ever saw a handful of workers in there at any time. Apart from one person who guards the alcohol section and checks IDs, the workers mostly seemed there to stock shelves and answer the many questions about how it all works.

Getty/Stephen Brashear

It’s funny — once the novelty of being in Amazon Go wears off, it’s just like shopping in any other convenience store. Except for that moment when you look up … and realise your every move is being monitored.

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There are cameras and other sensors literally all over Amazon Go. They’re cleverly disguised in the warehouse-style ceiling, but they’re there. Check out all the little black boxes. That’s how the magic works.

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For my first round, I tried to shop how I would normally. I picked up a few things and got out, just walking through the gates to end my shopping trip.

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There’s a small lunch-counter area in Amazon Go after you get through the exit turnstile. I rushed over and waited there for the couple of minutes it took to get my receipt.

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Boom. Nailed it. As you can see, the prices are fairly reasonable, including for the fancy chocolate I got as a gift for my partner. But they’re not <i>so</i> crazy low as to be mind-boggling.

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I decided to see if I could fool Amazon Go on a second go-around and get it to charge me for something I didn’t take.

Michael Buckner/Getty Images

For the record, when it reporters from CNBC accidentally stole a yogurt in January, Amazon told them to keep their yogurt.

“It happens so rarely that we didn’t even bother building in a feature for customers to tell us it happened,” Gianna Puerini, an Amazon vice president, said at the time.


I did my best to trick Amazon Go. I picked up a heaping handful of things I had no intention of buying — sorry, quinoa bowl, I’m sure you’re lovely — put them all back, then picked up two totally unrelated items.

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I didn’t fool the system. It charged me for only my obligatory La Croix sparkling water and my yogurt.

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After you’re done shopping, you can go to a little area with utensils, condiments, and the aforementioned microwaves to complete your lunch run.

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The store has free WiFi and a charging station so you can top off your phone before swiping in.

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Overall, I was pretty happy with my Amazon Go shopping trip. The prices are good, the selection is solid, and I was crazy impressed with how seamlessly all the technology worked.

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It’s no wonder Walmart has experimented with Amazon Go-like tech for its stores.

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It could mean an end to long checkout lines — and a faster trip for everybody.

Joe Raedle/Getty Images

At the same time, it’s another example of how technology will replace human labour in many jobs. With Amazon Go proving that the technology works really well, the consequences are likely to be felt sooner rather than later.

Joe Raedle / Staff / Getty Images

Meanwhile, Amazon Go is set to open up in six more cities this year, including San Francisco and Chicago, so more people will be able to try it for themselves.

Jason Kempin/Getty ImagesThe San Francisco location is set to open in Union Square, pictured.

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