After warehouse staff, Amazon to replace store clerks with robots

Amazon wants shoppers to just walk out of its stores and let an AI figure out what they owe for what they took.

Amazon.com is still figuring out how to use robots to fill store shelves, but it's about done with clerks. Next year, the company will open a convenience store in Seattle where shoppers can walk in, take what they want -- and leave.

The Amazon Go store is on the corner of 7th Avenue and Blanchard Street in Seattle, in the heart of Amazon's new campus development and a few blocks from the company's headquarters.

Amazon wants people to walk in to the store and then just walk out with what they want.

It's not giving the goods away, though.

To figure out who to charge, and how much, Amazon will identify shoppers by scanning QR codes on their phones as they walk in, and use sensors and computer vision technology to determine which items they take.

That might seem creepy, but it's not much more intrusive than the closed-circuit TV monitoring many stores already have in place to deter shoplifters, or the Bluetooth beacons others use to pitch up-to-the-minute offers to visitors. Whether Amazon's system is sharp-eyed enough to distinguish between a jar of strawberry jelly and a jar of raspberry in the same way that a clerk with a regular barcode reader can distinguish between codes 051500001639 and 051500022030 remains to be seen.

For now, only Amazon staff can shop at the 180-square-meter Go store, but early next year it will be ready to sell ready-made snacks and staples such as bread and milk to anyone -- anyone with the Amazon Go app running on a compatible smartphone, that is.

Payment is automatically deducted from the associated credit card when a shopper leaves the store, and the receipt is sent to the app.

With robots already able to mop the floor, and the shelf-stacking problem almost solved by entrants to the Amazon Picking Challenge, the employee-free grocery store may not be far away.

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Peter Sayer

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