If you’ve ever been frustrated by standing in line at the grocery checkout, or the constant error messages in the self-checkout lane, Amazon has a potential solution. Having already completely revolutionized the way the world buys and sells just about everything you could possibly imagine it should come as no surprise that they have trained their sights on the grocery business.

After a year of testing on its own employees, Amazon Go — Amazon’s checkout-free grocery store — has been opened to the public. Located in Seattle, Washington, and using a combination of cameras, sensors, and the Amazon Go mobile app, a customer walks in, takes what they need, and walks out. Simple as can be.

Of course, the technology behind this shopping experience is far from simple which means it is likely to be several years before this advancement reaches a wider customer base and it’s unlikely to appear in large grocery chains like Amazon-owned, Whole Foods. Traditional grocery stores can carry upwards of 38,000 items which presents a significant challenge to the tracking technology. For the time being, at least, this technology seems to lend itself more easily to smaller, specialized locations. Given that Amazon has invested 5 years into developing this technology, an investment other retailers are probably unable to make, this gives them a significant advantage when it comes to courting customers looking to jump the queue.

Amazon Set To Open Its Grocery Store To The Public front of Amazon Go store

The store was originally set to open in 2017 but the technology had a difficult time tracking customers when there were more than 20 people in the store and the system became confused when items were moved from to different shelf locations. But having invested serious time into addressing these errors, the carefully guarded technology, know as Just Walk Out, is ready for a slightly larger, more varied, set of customers.

At present, Amazon Go is roughly the same size as a convenience store at 1,800 square feet. Upon entry, customers must scan their Amazon Go app at one of the four turnstiles. From this point on, all movements through the store will be tracked. Cameras placed in the ceiling are not only able to follow movement, they can distinguish between customers based on body shape. This, coupled with sensors on the shelves, will track which items customers are picking up and placing in their bags or pockets. These items will then be added to their digital tab in the mobile app. If a customer puts an item back on a shelf, the sensors pick this up and it will be removed from the tab. Once the customer is finished shopping, they, as the technology’s name suggests, just walk out. The items will then be charged to the credit card on file with the app.

During beta testing, Amazon employees were able to walk in, grab what they wanted and walk out in a matter of minutes. A task which is virtually impossible in most other stores and certainly presents a level of efficiency that is desirable to many shoppers.

Due to the current limitations of the technology, the offerings available at Amazon Go are not as wide-ranging as the ones you’d see in a traditional grocery store. They offer things you’d find in a convenience store, like chilled drinks and snack foods but they also provide grocery staples like milk, coffee, and condiments, while making sure that your average household needs are covered by items like toilet paper. There is also a small wine and beer section located in the back of the store that is closely monitored by an Amazon employee checking IDs. What you won’t find are individual items that can vary in weight and size. For example, there are no individual produce items. This makes sense when you think about it. Without stopping to weigh these items at some point, it would be near impossible to be charged appropriately for them. This does not mean, however, that the shopper is limited to canned, processed, or frozen foods. Fresh salads and sandwiches are pre-packed in plastic containers marked with a set of dots that helps the sensors identify the item. Salads of the same type, for example, are all measured out to weigh the same so they can cost the same, simplifying things a great deal. And because Amazon Go has a focus on convenience, some the more popular items among Amazon staff has been the ready-to-cook meal kits which are likely to be a hit with the public as well. Similar to some of the grab-and-go style meals found in the average grocery chain, these kits contain everything needed to prepare a meal for two in just 30 minutes. It’s perfect answer to “what’s for dinner?” when rushing home at the end of a long work day.

Amazon Set To Open Its Grocery Store To The Public Amazon Go now open orange sign

Amazon Go feels like the ideal solution for anyone who has ever been in a hurry and this clearly includes nearly all of us. Of course, a large amount of press and public curiosity may actually create a few line ups at first. The store is small and the fire code only allows for 97 people inside at any given time. This number includes staff on hand to assist customers, stockers, and the people who work in the kitchen, preparing the fresh food items. Sure, waiting in line runs counter to what the store is about but it seems like a small price to pay to see this brand new technology in action.

There are some people who are not thrilled by these advances and fear that this use of technology will shrink the job market. It is important to note that while it is true that there are no cashiers in the Amazon Go store, there are still humans working there. Food prep and stocking shelves, as well as customer assistance, are tasks that still utilize human beings. And, at least for the foreseeable future, traditional grocery stores will remain a part of our way of life. These concerns aside, from a business perspective, this is a brilliant move by Amazon. Not only have they managed to generate a large deal of buzz around the store, they have positioned themselves to, once again, disrupt the status quo. They’ve identified a pain point for shoppers, and they’ve dedicated themselves to finding a viable solution. Furthermore, the data they can collect through tracking customer purchases helps them to gain insight into customer preferences which they can use to further improve the consumer experience across the board.

When companies come in and disrupt the entire system, it seldom feels comfortable — at least not at first. Amazon began as an online book retailer and turned the publishing industry on its head. There was lots of push back from publishing and retail giants, but customers were beyond thrilled. From there, Amazon transformed the way we shop for, and purchase, just about everything. They were able to identify consumer concerns and frustrations and offer solutions that could not be found anywhere else. We shop in grocery stores and stand in long lines because we don’t have any other options. That is just the way it is and the way it has been for a long time. But we may be on the verge of experiencing another monumental shift in the way we shop. Once again, Amazon has found a solution to a problem that until recently felt impossible to solve.