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A peek inside Amazon Go – America’s grab-and-go shop with no registers or cash accepted

Word had already spread of the grab-and-go store – there are no registers nor any cash accepted.

Barely old enough to recall dial-up modems, Benjamin felt none of my Orwellian angst about a cashier-free business where customers are automatically charged for purchases when they leave the store.

We made our way to the store’s sleek entrance, where we saw more humans at work than I expected: restocking crews, chipper brand ambassadors, salad-tossers in the food prep area visible from street-level windows.

Entering the store required scanning the Amazon Go app I had downloaded earlier, sliding my iPhone over a plastic-gated turnstile something like a subway entrance. The app ensures anything you take will be charged to your Amazon account. Effectively, it also restricts customers whose incomes don’t support smartphones or credit cards.

Inside, the market felt surprisingly spare, an upscale but monochromatic convenience store with a camera-jammed ceiling. There was no green grocery department, beyond some pre-cut packaged fruit. No meat counter. Every item was designed for a household of one or two, from single-serving boxed Duncan Hines mug cake mix to shelves of Amazon-branded meal kits.

The selection was squarely aimed at urban workers in the South Lake Union neighbourhood, once jokingly and now seriously referred to as Amazonia, who are notorious for prizing speed and ease when they emerge for snacks and meals.

Traditional supermarket checkouts could soon become a thing of the past. Picture: Fancycrave

A wall of sweets featured an “Amazon Go” bar from a fair-trade chocolate factory. Boxed pastries, Diet Cokes, pressed-rhubarb soda and cold brew were on offer.

Packaged salads and prepared foods lined the refrigerated shelves, from butter chicken to tofu banh mi. Several items were sold out.

Customers may have come for the novelty, but they left with full bags. We walked out with our own grocery bags without incident. Five minutes later, my phone chirped with an itemised receipt, complete with product photos and a time stamp noting our 23 minute and 54 second visit.

“I think this could be a big thing,” Benjamin said.

Would Benjamin miss human checkers?

He’d miss humans at restaurants if tablets replaced servers, he said. He wants human bookshop people who know and love books. But grocery-store pleasantries seemed shallow and transactional, and not essential.

To my generational surprise, I agreed. Maybe it’s from all the non-Amazon markets that have already replaced many humans with self-check kiosks where I scan my own bar codes in incompetent solitude.

The Big Brother aspect of our shopping trip, though, still bothered me. I told Benjamin how I paid cash for prenatal vitamins when I was pregnant with him, to preserve our privacy. In 2001 that felt paranoid. Now it seems prescient – and, to his generation, pointless.

The new Amazon Go store in Seattle, Washington State, in the US. Picture: Recode

“Amazon could get that information anyway, without the store,” he said.

We headed home, and Benjamin’s siblings eagerly pounced to see what he was carrying and where he had been.

“It’s a new grocery store. It’s run by Amazon,” he told 10-year-old Nathaniel.

“It’s run by robots?” Nathaniel said.

Benjamin explained the scenario. Nathaniel seemed more impressed than concerned.

“Robots have taken over the earth.”

“Kind of,” replied the most benevolent big brother he’ll ever have.

Benjamin took his pasta salad and iced tea out of the bag, and took them to his room – to have some privacy while he ate. 

The Washington Post

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