Amazon is getting more serious about its brick-and-mortar retail ambitions with its first-ever Amazon-branded grocery store.
In fact, the store does source a number of its items, including some produce and meat and other fresh food, from Whole Foods suppliers. It also carries Whole Foods’ 365 brand for certain items. But Amazon’s store offers other products, including breakfast cereal and soda, that you won’t find at Amazon’s higher-end, an organic-focused subsidiary.
Amazon says the store combines the product availability and low prices of a grocery chain like Publix or Walmart with the convenience and quick shopping times of its Go model, with a selection that includes both big mainstream brands and local, organic produce. It joins the nearly 20 Go stores currently open throughout the country in cities like New York and San Francisco
Amazon Go stores use overhead cameras and computer vision technology, paired with smartphone geofencing, to track both shoppers and items throughout the store. That way, the system can identify when a specific person has picked something off the shelf and placed it in their cart, and even when they decided to put something back.
The end result is that customers don’t have to sit through check out. When you’re done at a Go store, you just walk out and your receipt is sent to you through Amazon’s companion app. The same is true of Amazon’s new grocery store, which features shopping carts, but no checkout lanes or counters.
Amazon says its Go system has been trained to handle tricky situations that are unique to grocery stores, like customers handling unpackaged produce that looks similar and sits next to other fruits and vegetables or unboxed baked goods that might get stuffed into a single plastic bag. You can even buy alcohol by taking it off the shelf and walking out, although a human employee will have to check your ID before you enter the store if you intend to peruse the libations aisle.
That complexity inherent to the grocery market is why Amazon chose to brand its new store as a Go one, instead of choosing to bring its cashier-less Go model to an existing Whole Foods location. Amazon wants the freedom to sell people products from major brands they might find at a city bodega, a neighborhood CVS, or a Kroger store, and not just the organic and high-end ones Whole Foods sells today. That sets up Amazon to service a wider variety of customers: Go stores for the office lunch crowd, Go Grocery for the everyday residential shopper, and Whole Foods for the organic-minded and more affluent.
In addition to all that, the Go Grocery store has a bakery section, as well as prepared meals and snack section similar to what you’d find in the smaller standard Go store. Amazon says it will also offer items from local Seattle businesses including pastries from Seattle Bagel Bakery, yogurt from Ellenos, and sausage from Uli’s.
Whether Amazon Go Grocery takes off is an open question, but the steady rollout of Go stores so far seems to suggest that the cashier-less model has been a worthwhile investment for the company so far. Kumar says the key for Amazon right now is making sure it’s doing something customers actually want.
“How big it gets and how fast it goes, customers get to decide that,” Kumar says.