The future of retail has finally arrived in New York City, a bright and shiny place where you can shop to your heart's content and never have to interact with another human being, just you and your beloved phone roaming the aisles, grabbing pre-packaged soggy sandwiches from the shelves, your every action automatically tracked and recorded from the all-seeing swarm of cameras and scanners above, as payment is deducted instantly from your bank account as you walk out the door.
The future is now, up there. (Scott Lynch / Gothamist)
That's how Jeff Bezos and company see the future, anyway, and it's all happening right now at the city's first Amazon Go shop, which opened yesterday deep inside the mall at Brookfield Place. Here's what we learned from a mid-afternoon visit...
- Before you start you have to download the Amazon Go app, and sign in with your Amazon account. You can't enter the store unless you scan in your personal Amazon Go QR code on your phone. Someone else can scan you in, as a guest, but they will then be charged for everything that leaves with you.
- As soon as you take an item off the shelf, it's automatically added to your digital cart. If you change your mind and put it back, even in a different place, it disappears from your phone. If you hand it to someone else, it's still in your cart, and you're still paying for it as soon as the item leaves the store.
- You don't have to tell anyone you're leaving, or digitally check out in any way. Just walk right through the exit gates, pockets bulging with candy bars if that's the way you want to play it, and your Amazon Go overlords will finish the transaction unseen. Your itemized receipt will appear almost instantaneously on the app, along with a record of how long you spent in the store, down to the second.
- There are actual live Amazon Go employees on hand to answer questions and even accept cash if you want to kick it old school.
- Having second thoughts about something you purchased? Didn't enjoy that damp, cold Cubano? Go into your phone and digitally "return" the item. Your money will be refunded without actually having to go back to the store. Yes, you could lie, and steal a free lunch in this way, but I imagine they'd catch on pretty quick if you tried it more than once.
How does the technology work? What does it look like behind the scenes? An opening-day staffer described it thus: “Did you ever play Sims? It’s like that, following you around with a diamond on your head. It doesn’t film your face though,” she added, unconvincingly.
Will our future bodegas just be robot-run Amazon Go stores? Hopefully not. And all of the pre-made food looks so sad it's unlikely you'd want to shop here regularly even if you thought it was cool as hell. Plus, the moment it gets crowded you just have to wait on line to get into the store, as happened during lunchtime on Tuesday, so cashierless does not always mean "no lines."
Amazon Go is located within the Brookfield Place mall. Go up the grand staircase at the Winter Garden and turn left. You'll see it. The store is open weekdays from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m., and on weekends from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. (amazongo.com)