Inside ‘Amazon Go Grocery’: Tech giant opens first full-sized store without cashiers or checkout lines

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Two years after launching a chain of convenience stores without cashiers or checkout lines, Amazon is opening its first “Amazon Go Grocery” store in Seattle on Tuesday morning, enlarging the footprint for surveillance-style shopping and signaling a larger challenge to the broader world of brick-and-mortar retail.

The debut is also the answer to a longstanding mystery about the 7,700-square-foot space, at 610 E. Pike Street in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood. Amazon’s plans for the property have long been under wraps. Last fall the company confirmed that its Amazon Go team was “running internal tests” at the location, but declined to say more until now.

GeekWire got a sneak peek at the store during a recent media preview, entering by scanning a smartphone app and strolling the aisles of the completely stocked store. The banks of cameras and sensors overhead track everything put into a shopping cart, with the help of artificial intelligence — rendering unnecessary the old-fashioned ritual of scanning and paying at a checkout stand. Items are charged to a shopper’s Amazon account shortly after they walk through the exit.

Apart from the larger size, the concept is very similar to the Amazon Go convenience stores that first opened to the public in Seattle in January 2018. Amazon Go has expanded to 25 locations across cities including San Francisco, Chicago and New York. That smaller concept, sized between 450 and 2,700 square feet, ushered in an era of grab-and-go shopping.

“What Amazon Go did for central business districts — like locating it very close to where people work so you can get breakfast, lunch, snacks — Amazon Go Grocery does the same thing, but closer to home,” said Dilip Kumar, vice president of Physical Retail & Technology for Amazon. “It’s a new format, it’s not just a bigger Amazon Go. It’s a much more expanded selection that caters to what people are looking for shopping for groceries.”

What Amazon is looking for is yet another answer to traditional retail, where it’s leveraging convenience and technology in a $675 billion U.S. grocery industry. The tech giant scooped up Whole Foods in 2017 in a bid to take on the sizeable brick-and-mortar footprints of Walmart, Target, Kroger and others. Those companies have consistently responded to Amazon’s digital pushes around online grocery ordering and delivery.

Amazon posted $4.4 billion in revenue last quarter in its physical stores category, which includes Whole Foods and Amazon Go stores.

Kumar declined to say how many Amazon Go Grocery stores are coming, where the next one might be, or whether they will all be the same size. Plans for an even larger grocery concept in Los Angeles and elsewhere are “something else” entirely, he said, but he likes what they built first in Seattle.

“I think it fits the neighborhood, it’s the right size,” Kumar said. “It’s an interesting challenge to be able to fit all the selection that people would care about, in a store.”

No matter the size, the continued push toward tech and automation is sure to fuel the ongoing debate around human workers being replaced by machines. Amazon Go Grocery will staff just a handful of associates.

After entering the new store through the kiosks which scan a smartphone QR code, a familiar sight greets traditional grocery store shoppers: a line of shopping carts at the ready. Free, green shopping bags are also offered.

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