Amazon Go pushes Mediterranean lamb, skips the chili cheese dogs

A customer scans his Amazon Go cellphone app at the entrance as he heads into an Amazon Go store in Seattle. The store, which opened to the public on Monday, allows shoppers to scan their smartphone with the Amazon Go app at a turnstile, pick out the items they want and leave. The online retail giant can tell what people have purchased and automatically charges their Amazon account.

You won’t find a squeaking hot dog rotisserie in Amazon.com’s cashier-less convenience store. Instead, you’ll see Mediterranean lamb sandwiches, fresh salads, and to-go containers of cubed pineapple and melon.

After more than a year of testing with an employee-only focus group, Amazon Go opened to the public Monday in downtown Seattle, putting to the test the online retailer’s technology that lets shoppers grab what they want and leave without paying a cashier.

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The Amazon Go store in Seattle. More than a year after it introduced the concept, Amazon is opening its artificial intelligence-powered Amazon Go store in downtown Seattle on Monday, Jan. 22, 2018.

“We got a lot of feedback on selection,” Amazon Go’s technology vice president Dilip Kumar said, adding that most changes over the past year involved the store’s inventory. Amazonians prefer their salad dressing on the side, for instance. And boxed meal kits to be cooked at home should be clearly labeled if they are vegan or gluten-free.

Amazon Go is the company’s most ambitious effort to change the way people shop in stores and a play for the struggling $550 billion U.S. convenience store industry. Amazon hopes the cashier-less technology will help it stand out from the nation’s 150,000 convenience stores where traffic jams can form at the checkout counter. It’s all part of the company’s larger brick-and-mortar ambitions, which include a stepped-up push into groceries with the Whole Foods Market acquisition as well as the opening of about a dozen book stores in such cities as Los Angeles, Chicago, and New York.

To enter the Amazon Go store, customers download a smartphone app and scan a QR code to open a glass turnstile. Those shopping in a group scan the account holder’s phone once for each person entering and sensors will associate them with that account. From there, machines take over, watching the items plucked from shelves and adding them to a shopping cart. Shoppers are billed once they leave and if there are any mistakes or the customer isn’t happy with an item, you push a “refund” button to have that item removed from the bill. Shoppers don’t have to return an unwanted item to the store to get a refund.

The system is designed around the honor system with an understanding that those looking to trick the system and steal things are in the minority. “The system is very accurate,” Kumar said.

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Customer Paul Fan shops at an Amazon Go store in Seattle. The store on the bottom floor of the company’s Seattle headquarters allows shoppers to scan their smartphone with the Amazon Go app at a turnstile, pick out the items they want and leave. The online retail giant can tell what people have purchased and automatically charges their Amazon account.

The 1,800-square-foot store is in the ground floor of Amazon’s new Seattle headquarters complex. On a recent lunchtime tour, about 10 chefs were in a kitchen making salads and sandwiches, and several other employees replenished the shelves. One employee monitored the small beer and wine section to manually check IDs.

There are typical convenience store staples like peanut butter, milk, eggs, and bread. Freshly made items get prominent shelf space, as do veggie chips and other products from the Whole Foods “365 Everyday Value” brand. The experiment will only succeed if Amazon delivers quality food at good prices, said Jeff Lenard, spokesman for the National Association of Convenience Stores.

“The coolness of the technology will undoubtedly get people to check it out,” he said. “But the quality is what will get them to come back.”