I am, by far away, the worst kind of shopper. I pick things up. I put them down. I walk away and repeat the process about 40 times. I wander up and down the aisles because I had no idea what I wanted before I walked in.
And that’s fine, because cans of fruit and tins of instant coffee don’t give a shit how many times I lift them off the shelf. But Amazon’s grand vision for a supermarket does care.
It’s called Amazon Go, and it’s basically Amazon Does Coles/Woolworths. Located in Seattle and open to the public from early next year – it’s only open to Amazon employees right now – it’s a smart supermarket that relies on machine learning, smartphones and various bells and whistles to track what people do while they shop.
The tracking isn’t for targeted ads as such, but more to eliminate queues. As items are taken off the shelf, they’re added to your virtual Amazon cart and you’re automatically billed as soon as you leave the store. If you put an item back on the shelf, it’s removed from your cart. Change your mind, and it’s added back on.
In other words, people like me would accidentally stress test the living shit out Amazon Go. And, having seen this, you’ll probably get a raft of shoppers just moving stuff from shelf to shelf just to see whether it works. And you can’t discount the paranoia factor: is Amazon going to accidentally bill me because I picked up a can, checked the nutritional requirements and then decided on something else? It’ll be interesting to see how the refunds procedure would work, even for regular supermarket woes like ring-pulls breaking and so forth.
What’s cool, and something more inner-city Australians are becoming accustomed to, is the part in the video where Amazon is clearly trying to push food prepared by in-house chefs. Woolworths and Coles already do a bit of that, or at least provide the illusion of doing so. Amazon hasn’t provided any specifics yet, but there might also be a tracker or RFID chip in the food packaging that tracks when items are pulled on and off shelves.
The concept is cool, even if the practicality of it sounds like a waking nightmare for horror shoppers like me. It’s only starting out in Seattle, but with Amazon setting up physical stores here from next year an Australian expansion certainly isn’t out of the realms of possibility.