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Amazon launches its first cashier-free grocery store in Seattle

No, it’s not Whole Foods, but it is a grocery store owned and operated by Amazon. The e-commerce giant has chosen Seattle to open its first full-size, cashier-free store, taking one more step into the $800 billion U.S. grocery industry. 

While Amazon Go convenience stores already existed, this brick-and-mortar store is significantly larger than those convenience stores at just over 10,000 square feet. In comparison, the average size of an American grocery store clocks in at about 40,000 square feet. Cameron Janes, vice president of Amazon’s physical retail division, told CNBC it is more of a “neighborhood market,” but still offers shoppers everything from fresh produce to meat, alcohol, and 5,000 other items. 

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The company has spent five years developing the Go technology and the space located in the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Amazon’s headquarters city. The process of shopping there involves customers scanning a QR code found in the Amazon app at a turnstile in the store. 

You can shop as you normally would at any other store, but walk out without ever interacting with a cashier. Cameras throughout the store are coupled with “smartphone geofencing,” which allows the company to see which shopper picks up which item. It is unclear how quickly the technology reacts to shoppers picking up items and putting them back on shelves, like some shoppers do in regular markets. When shoppers are done, they simply walk out of the store with an in-app receipt. 

The experience will not be completely devoid of human interaction, though; about a dozen Amazon staff will be on hand to restock shelves and help shoppers as needed. Amazon told The Verge that the Go stores’ technology is equipped to handle issues like shoppers buying produce that looks similar or multiple baked goods that could get put into the same bags. 

While Janes noted that the company is “not trying to replace” the Whole Foods chain, which it acquired in 2017 for nearly $14 billion, the produce in-store comes from Whole Foods’ providers. Well-known national brands of all kinds line the shelves, as do Amazon’s in-house brands like Happy Belly, Mama Bear, and Wag. Whole Foods’ 365 brand will also be sold at Amazon Go stores. 

Amazon and its Prime membership features may be wildly popular with its 150 million users, but only about 3% of groceries are ordered online. The grocery store remains a frequent destination for most Americans at this point and the company is clearly trying to cash in on that. 

Amazon is also expected to open another grocery store in the Los Angeles area, but without the same technology as the Go stores, which allows customers to shop without weighing items like produce or checking out. The company has not publicly commented on further details.

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