Amazon has been opening more physical Amazon Go convenience stores in the US - the latest is a full-size grocery store called Amazon Go Grocery.
However, unlike other physical shops, it doesn't have any registers or checkouts. You simply walk in, pick out what you want and walk out. Amazon is calling this a "Just Walk Out" shopping experience.
Amazon has been rumoured for the last year to be opening an Amazon Go store in the UK amid speculation that it has settled on a London site.
What is Amazon Go?
Amazon describes Amazon Go as "a new kind of store with no checkout required". That means, when you shop at Amazon Go, you'll never have to wait in line. The store works with an Amazon Go application - you enter Amazon Go, take the products you want and, thanks to the app, just leave again. The first Amazon Go is basically a small grocery store (convenience store) with roughly 1,800 square feet of retail space.
It works 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.
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 Amazon Go work?
To get started with Amazon Go, you need an Amazon account, a supported smartphone and the free Amazon Go 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 then just walk out when you're finished. You don't need to check out and you can replace items at any time.
The Amazon Go 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 Receipts screen shows what you bought after you've left.
'Just Walk Out' tech
Amazon said it 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 the shelves. A patent application filed by Amazon in early 2015 first revealed details about a new kind of retail store that would allow Amazon customers to pick items and leave without stopping at a cashier register or kiosk. 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 in the form of facial recognition.
Where is Amazon opening Amazon Go?
We know that Amazon is also planning to launch an Amazon Go store in London's West End, the first outside the US. But despite this information coming out in early 2019, there's still no sign of it becoming reality.
According to a report from The Wall Street Journal, Amazon hopes to one day open 2,000 grocery and convenience stores across the US. These stores might even have multiple formats, allowing it to better rival Target and Walmart and other big-box stores.