Cashier-less store Amazon Go opens in the US

  • Tech giant Amazon launched a store with no checkouts.
  • It works using deep learning algorithms to automatically charge customers.
  • It opened to huge queues last week.

Is this the future of retail? Amazon has launched its first cashier-less grocery store, Amazon Go, in Seattle.

The store boasts 'Just Walk Out' technology - customers scan their smartphones upon entry, take what they want, and leave. Their items are added to a virtual cart, which is charged to their Amazon account when they leave. With no checkouts and no physical transactions, it promises to be the ultimate convenience store - but early visitors were quick to point out the irony of the long lines on opening day:

Amazon says the store works using a combination of "computer vision, sensor fusion, and deep learning". Essentially, a giant web of cameras spans the ceiling of the store, tracking customers as they enter and following them as they walk around. When they take an item, QR-like codes on the packaging, as well as weight sensors in the shelves, let the system know what they picked up, and it's added to their cart.

It's not flawless - on opening day, a reporter accidentally stole a tub of yoghurt when the system didn't notice it being taken, and during testing, children were able to move items between shelves to confuse the computer. Amazon's official response to these minor acts of shoplifting has generally been unconcerned: ""First and foremost, enjoy the yogurt on us. It happens so rarely that we didn't even bother building in a feature for customers to tell us it happened," the VP of the Amazon Go project told CNBC. More recently, a Youtube blogger took advantage of Amazon Go's return system to 'steal' some sanitary pads - essentially, you can ask for a refund on anything in your cart if you say you didn't actually take it. 

While the store does employ some individuals (called "associates") to prepare some of its ready-to-eat foods and answer customer questions, the removal of the need for a cashier has some workers worried. 

When Amazon brought its online shopping to Australia just before Christmas, brick-and-mortar retailers were concerned about what it would mean for their business. This latest development might strike fear into the hearts of convenience store owners around the country, but as of yet there's only the one Amazon Go store in Seattle, and no official plans to expand to other cities (let alone Australia) anytime soon. So far the project seems to be a success, if the giant queues are anything to go by, but only once the novelty dies down will we see whether it's a legitimate replacement for the human touch at your local supermarket.