On March 7, 2019 I went to an Amazon Go store for the first time. Outside of Seattle, Chicago is one of the first cities to serve Amazon Go, so I figured this would be a really cool opportunity to experience the growing chain of cashier-less stores first hand. For reference, this is the one on Clark Street in Chicago’s Loop.
All in all I was really pleased with my experience, although this store wasn’t the larger grocery store setup I had anticipated. There were frozen items (like Halo Top) alongside cold bottled drinks, coffee beans, small snacks, and pre-packaged prepared meals to-go. A couple thoughts:
There seems to be a lot of concern in the media that Amazon is looking to replace employee jobs with its software. While the model is cashier-less, there were about two employees while I was there. I think this is actually pretty standard for a small shop, although this would be a relatively low count for a larger grocery store (like Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods). I figured Amazon wanted to beta test the technology before transitioning it to Whole Foods.
Front-stocked refrigerated aisles. In a typical grocery store, especially for refrigerated goods like milk, a sectioned off walkway behind the refrigerated aisles allows store employees to restock goods from behind the racks. In Amazon Go, the store employees restocked goods from the front of the rack, standing in the same aisles customers used to browse goods. It’s still a frictionless experience, and in my opinion it’s actually good that the employees get to share the space of shoppers to help answer questions or concerns (or just to have human contact!). It’s just different from conventional grocery stores’ methods of restocking refrigerated items.
I remembered something David Foster Wallace once wrote:
It's the end of the workday, and the traffic's very bad, so getting to the store takes way longer than it should, and when you finally get there the supermarket is very crowded, because of course it's the time of day when all the other people with jobs also try to squeeze in some grocery shopping, and the store's hideously, fluorescently lit, and infused with soul-killing Muzak or corporate pop, and it's pretty much the last place you want to be, but you can't just get in and quickly out. You have to wander all over the huge, overlit store's crowded aisles to find the stuff you want, and you have to maneuver your junky cart through all these other tired, hurried people with carts, and of course there are also the glacially slow old people and the spacey people and the ADHD kids who all block the aisle and you have to grit your teeth and try to be polite as you ask them to let you by, and eventually, finally, you get all your supper supplies, except now it turns out there aren't enough checkout lanes open even though it's the end-of-the-day rush, so the checkout line is incredibly long, which is stupid and infuriating, but you can't take your fury out on the frantic lady working the register.
Anyway, you finally get to the checkout line's front, and pay for your food, and wait to get your check or card authenticated by a machine, and then get told to "Have a nice day" in a voice that is the absolute voice of death, and then you have to take your creepy flimsy plastic bags of groceries in your cart through the crowded, bumpy, littery parking lot, and try to load the bags in your car in such a way that everything doesn't fall out of the bags and roll around in the trunk on the way home, and then you have to drive all the way home through slow, heavy, SUV- intensive rush-hour traffic, et cetera, et cetera.
- David Foster Wallace, This is Water
And to think that we might be able to solve some of those daily annoyances? I’m excited about the prospects. From my short experience, the technology was seamless. I really would place my bet that this is the future of storefront grocery shopping.
Disclaimer: This blog post was in no way sponsored or affiliated with Amazon Go, but if any Amazon employees are reading this and want to discuss strategic partnerships (especially involving Chocolate Nesquik), hit me up.