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26 October 2018

When Equator Met Amazon Go

With the newly opened The Amazon Go store just a few blocks from our Chicago office (and trust us, there’s quite a buzz about it in the neighborhood), we couldn’t wait to take an employee field trip to do some industry recon on the look and feel of this revolutionary new way of shopping. And yes, this is the future of shopping – not just for convenience stores but for every sort of retailer.

While the S. Franklin St location is Amazon’s fourth outing with Go, it is their first outside Seattle. In terms of size, these smallish convenience stores come in at just a fraction of average US supermarket size, occupying about 2,000 square feet (as opposed to 45,000 square feet for large grocery stores). 

Inside you’ll find a high-end assortment of grab-and-go lunch foods, as well as chilled beverages, sweets, snacks, ready-made salads and sandwiches, frozen foods, meal kits for dinners, as well as some groceries and sundries.

There are no lines. And no check-out areas. So, how does it work?

Amazon used its own employee shop as the prototype and real-life testing ground for Amazon Go. The original store is located in the first floor of Amazon headquarters and opened to staff in 2016 before opening to the public in 2018. Two more have since been launched in Seattle.

The whole system relies heavily on the Amazon Go smartphone app, which customers scan on a special device before passing through the doors, similar to the gates Amazon employees go through when entering their office buildings every morning. A vast array of overhead cameras and weight sensors in the shelves automatically track what people pick up and take from the store, so the likelihood of shoplifting is virtually nil.

Once you’ve finished shopping, you just walk out. That’s it.

As they say, ‘the future is now’. So what did our team members think?

‘A very high end appearance’

Lyndsay, a [designer] at our Chicago location, weighs in…

‘Before we arrived, we had imaged that a shop with so much computerization would have very few employees, but that notion was very quickly proved wrong. From the moment we walked in, we were greeted by multiple employees who were helping customers download the Amazon Go app to enter. We all took a moment to download the app and once downloaded we were able to enter through the white turnstiles by scanning a QR code.

Overall the store had a high end appearance, very clean and bright, with black wire baskets and metal shelves filled with product. The store is filled with grab-and-go options. Simple aisle signage was displayed high up above the shelves along with fresh and bright food photography images. The walls that weren’t covered by coolers and shelves had fun wall decals with laid back language directing customers on where to exit. One of their main decals by the entrance stated their motto of “No lines. No check out. (No, seriously.)” As we walked around we discovered more Amazon Go employees who were stocking shelves and checking IDs for liquor.

The shopping experience itself was a breeze. We just grabbed what we wanted off the shelves and were automatically charged. No Lines. No check out. At the end, we simply walked out. Some of us even felt as though we were shoplifting while we were leaving, but as soon as we left the store we checked our accounts and we had all received receipts for the items we grabbed.

What is really cool about the app is that it has a feature that records the amount of time you are in the store, and our group averaged around 8 minutes of shopping, and not having to wait in line or check out did help us shave off minutes off the time spent in-store. This really is the future of shopping!’

Own brand at Amazon Go

While you’re scanning the shelves at Amazon Go, you’re sure to come face to face with some of Amazon’s own-brand offerings. One of its largest ranges is Wickedly Prime, which has been one of the company's most ambitious ventures into perishable foods and includes products like snack foods, tea and ready-made soups.

Above Lyndsay mentioned the Amazon meal kits, and these prepared food parcels were also prominently featured, factoring in as part of the convenience store’s grab-and-go remit. There are several varieties in the meal range, such as the Chili con Carne and Parmesan Pork Loin, ranging in price from $16 to $20 for two portions.

In fact, Amazon filed a trademark application on July 6 for "prepared food kits" as it looks to take on the big names in prepared food delivery including HelloFresh. This development comes on the heels of Amazon’s $13.7 billion (£10.5 billion) acquisition of supermarket chain Whole Foods and we can expect Amazon to take up more of the everyday essentials and prepared food market, so watch this space.

Our verdict? The lunchtime rush will never be the same again, now that Amazon Go is in the neighborhood. There are plans to open more of these stores, in the Midwest and further afield. So, even if you don’t cross state lines to get yourself to an Amazon Go, chances are pretty soon these shops will be coming to a city near you.