(Pocket-lint) - Amazon has been opening physical Amazon Go convenience stores and Amazon Go Grocery stores across the US and it has now launched a UK store, branded Amazon Fresh.
All have one thing in common - unlike most shops, there are no registers or cashiers. You walk in, pick out what you want, and walk out. Amazon calls it a 'just walk out' shopping experience.
Here's everything you need to know, including how it works.
What is a 'just walk out' store?
Amazon described the original Amazon Go store as "a new kind of store with no checkout required". The first Amazon Go in Seattle was basically a small convenience store with roughly 1,800 square feet of retail space and it's this small format that is replicated elsewhere.
When you shop at one of these stores, you never have to wait in line. The store works with an Amazon Go app for iOS or Android: You enter, take the products you want and, thanks to the app, just leave again. The app is linked to your Amazon account for billing.
There are two types of Amazon Go stores in the US:
- Amazon Go: Serves breakfast, lunch, and all sorts of snacks that are ready
- Amazon Go Grocery: Produce, ready-made dinners, and household essentials
And now there's a similar store in London, but it's called Amazon Fresh.
These stores work by using the same types of technologies found in self-driving cars, such as computer vision, sensor fusion, and deep learning.
This technology can detect when products are taken or returned to the shelves and keeps track of them in your virtual cart. When you leave the store with your goods, your Amazon account is charged and you are sent a receipt.
Where can you find these stores?
- Check out the latest list of Amazon Go locations
Amazon has also now launched the first store outside the US with the technology. This is in Ealing, UK and is called Amazon Fresh, matching the brand Amazon is using for online grocery. Other rumours pointed to stores in Oxford Circus (2018), Notting Hill Gate (2020) before the Ealing store surfaced.
Various reports suggest that up to 30 stores could be opened in the UK and rumours suggest the launch partner is Morrisons - certainly the Amazon Fresh store is carrying a large offering of Amazon-branded grocery items which may have come from that source. Amazon and Morrisons already work together on the Amazon Fresh online delivery service.
According to a report from The Wall Street Journal, Amazon hopes to one day open 2,000 grocery and convenience stores. These stores might even have multiple formats.
I've visited Amazon's original Seattle Amazon Go store to experience the "future of retail". The first thing to note is that the technology works extremely well - I had my receipt emailed to us in no time at all and the system wasn't fooled by us picking up things and putting them back through indecision.
The most fascinating thing about the experience is how you feel about picking things up and putting them back. It's a bit like the feeling you get when removing something from your hotel minibar - have you been charged just by lifting it out of its spot in the cabinet? And there's a definite feeling that you could be stealing by "just walking out" - is security going to come and stop you? Are you being overcharged? Are you going to be undercharged?
The actual store itself is just like a normal convenience store - don't expect to go in there and buy books, tech or clothes or anything else that Amazon sells online.
It's basically quick-and-easy food and other groceries. It's just that there's no cashier. It was definitely an experience - and we're quite proud of the mug we bought...which says "just walk out" on it!
How does it work?
To get started, you need an Amazon account, a supported smartphone, and the free app. You scan the app as you enter the store to get through a turnstile. You then put away your phone and began shopping - picking up items, putting them in a basket or in bags (without needing to scan each item). You can just walk out when you're finished.
You don't need to check out and you can replace items at any time.
The app has a navigation bar at the bottom with tabs for four screens: Key, Receipts, About, and More. The Key screen seems to bring up the QR code that the store's turnstiles scan to let you in, while the Receipt screen shows what you bought after you've left.
'Just Walk Out' tech
Amazon is using a combination of artificial intelligence, computer vision, and data pulled from multiple sensors to ensure customers are only charged for the stuff they pick up. Cameras are used to track items as they're taken from shelves.
A patent application filed by Amazon in early 2015 first revealed details about the technology. The patent described a store that would work using a system of cameras, sensors, and/or RFID readers to identify shoppers and their items.
There is also a mention of "facial recognition" and user information, which may include images of the user, details about the user like height and weight, user biometrics, a username and password, even user purchase history.
We're not entirely sure if this patent application precisely describes the final iteration of Just Walk Out technology. However, it is a camera-tracking system and it must also use some kind of AI to track you through the store.