Amazon has just opened their new cashier-less convenience store, Amazon Go, deep in the heart of Seattle’s Belltown district and around the block from the Amazon Spheres. The folks at Mashable asked me to Amazon Go, so I Amazon Did.
When I arrive, there’s a line. No huge surprise there; it is opening day, after all, and people are curious. A light carnival atmosphere prevails, much as one might expect at the debut of, say, a Euro Disney or an Avatar: The Movie The Ride.
Amazon Go hopefuls chat and take pictures in the line, a few TV cameras prowl around getting footage, and helpful Amazon employees go back and forth handing out bright orange grocery bags. I accept one. Score! This is already a victory!
The employees say the line’s been going fast, just a couple of minutes, but the opening-day surge is a bit more than that: 15 minutes 07 seconds and 53 miliseconds by my stopwatch as I finally enter.
Entry is as demonstrated on the app. You hold your phone out with the app displaying your QR code entry pass, scan it on the subway-like barriers at the door, the barriers swing aside, and you walk right in.
It’s not bigger on the inside. In fact, it’s about the size of your typical 7-11 or my apartment, perhaps a bit smaller. The shelves are loaded up with various foodstuffs: drinks, sandwiches, re-heatable entrees, salads, breakfast objects, and more. There’s a cooler filled with some dairy items and meats and a freezer containing a mid-sized selection of microwaveable edibles. There’s also a fairly large shelf boasting two-person take-home meals such as Chile Con Carne and Thai Red Curry. And, for the lunchtime or after-work boozers, there’s a wine and beer nook. All very civilized.
One thing they don’t have, however, is a hot tray, which puts a lunch-sized dent in my lunchtime plans to eat hot food for lunch. Hmmm… what to do? Maybe grab a Butter Chicken With Cilantro-Mint Chutney and heat it up in either the Amazon Go microwave or back at the office? No, damn it, if I want a Butter Chicken With Cilantro-Mint Chutney, I’ll get it fresh at the Indian place on the way back.
Still, I can’t leave empty-handed. The whole point is to experience the delicious and liberating freedom of walking in, grabbing something off the shelf, and walking out without having to interact with a human or directly exchange money for a good. But what if… aha! The snack section! They have Stax! Pringles knockoffs that are slightly more rigid than regular Pringles, encased in a plastic cylinder that is both more difficult to get the chips out of than a Pringles can and more likely to cut your hands on when you do. Perfect!
Time for the final step: I exit the store, waved through the exit barrier by an opening-day Amazon fella there to explain the whole rigamarole to folks who simply can’t believe it, or refuse to.
So… is it all worth it? I can’t say I’ve ever found the grocery checkout line to be terribly onerous. And, in an area like the neighborhood Amazon Go is located, there are many options for fresher, better food. And it’s not like they can keep the place open 24/7 without staff, since the barriers are more of a polite suggestion than any serious impediment to entry.
Having read a little bit about the technical wizardry Amazon deploys to make the thing work, I’ll confess a bit of trepidation. Amazon claims its cameras and algorithms aren’t recording my face — only my general appearance and gait and buying habits. I can’t see how that makes much of a difference when the NSA or the Bolivian hackers come a-knocking. Is the convenience worth it? No. Is the novelty worth it? Again, no.
Are the Stax worth it? Damn, that’s a tough one. I do love my Stax.