Care to shop at a store where hundreds of cameras in the ceiling track your every move? People lined up in Seattle this week for just that chance, when Amazon’s Amazon Go convenience-store-without-checkout-lines opened to the public.
The 1,800-square-foot store, tucked into Amazon’s headquarters in Seattle, has been in beta testing with staff for the past year. Monday was the first day the general public could shop there and, while there are no checkout lines, there was a line around the block to get in, with as many as 100 people at times waiting for the chance to shop.
The space feels like an upscale convenience store when you walk in, with shelves of chilled juice drinks, fancy salads, artisanal chocolates and a rather nice, if minimal, wine and beer selection in the back. But it’s really a computerized room, one that tracks every person who enters, follows their every move and keeps a careful tally of each item they take.
Hundreds (literally, I asked Amazon) of cameras in the ceiling look down on the space and just as many sensors dot the shelves. This isn’t “Big Brother Is Watching You,” it’s “Thanks for Stepping Into Big Brother.”
The crowds who gathered Monday morning in a pre-dawn Seattle chill to be the first to shop there loved it. Amazon Go means swiping the app on the turnstile, waltzing in, grabbing a drink and a sandwich and waltzing right out again: No muss, no fuss, no check out. The items are charged to your Amazon account.
Just as Amazon staff have been doing for 12 months now, visitors were eager to share their trip times, with many reporting it took them fewer than two minutes to grab lunch and get out.
This supremely techy (or creepy, depending on your perspective) experience isn’t expected to become available elsewhere any time soon. Amazon says its only focus now is making sure the store is “effortless and magical” for customers. Experts say it’s so money- and computing-intensive that other locations aren’t likely to follow in the near future.
For now, expect it to remain a quick lunch stop for those who work in the area and a big tourist destination. I predict visiting the Amazon Go store will quickly become a Seattle must-do, up there with riding the monorail or visiting the bubble gum wall at Pike Place Market.
Not that Amazon’s dominance is going unchallenged everywhere. At the end of the week came word that Walmart, Google and possibly Apple are all moving into the audiobook space. Amazon’s had pretty much dominated this space since it bought Audible in 2008. Today the book industry data site AuthorEarnings.com estimates Amazon sells 95% of all audiobooks in the United States. So lower prices for everyone who’s addicted to audiobooks (guilty as charged) could be in the offing.
Meanwhile, in other tech news this week:
► Facebook acknowledged that its website could be bad for democracy, too easily allowing people to spread misinformation. The company is racing to shut down Russian interference that rocked the 2016 presidential campaign before U.S. voters cast their ballots in hundreds of midterm elections. The November 2018 contests will be the first test of its pledge to protect the American electorate from foreign powers.
► Netflix is doing so well some on Wall Street think it could raise prices without taking much of a hit in memberships. The company had its most successful subscriber growth period ever from October to the end of the year. Shares hit historic highs on Friday, zooming up to $272 a share.
► Amazon named the top 20 finalists for its second headquarters search, and some of them are having second thoughts. Said Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, “I’m not going to cry” if Denver doesn’t get it.
► Burger King weighed in on the net-neutrality debate. The company made a commercial that explained the issue of Internet neutrality, equating broadband speeds to burger delivery times as a way to educate consumers. The principle of net neutrality — that Internet service providers (ISPs) should give consumers access to all legal content and applications on an equal basis without favoring some sources or blocking others — has been in a push-me-pull-you state for more than a decade. New rules passed last month by the Republican-led Federal Communications Commission are set to go into effect in the coming weeks, replacing stricter net neutrality rules that were repealed. AT&T, Verizon, Comcast and other telecom providers lobbied for an end to the older Obama-era rules, arguing they were too heavy-handed.
Speaking of Amazon — What if the e-tailer went beyond a small Seattle food store to own mammoth big-box retailer Target? Analyst and investor Gene Munster outlines his take on why he thinks that will happen in this interview.
Siri is getting slightly better — In part 2 of our chat with Gene Munster, he tells why he’s upgraded his ranking of Apple’s Siri so slightly, after asking her 800 questions.
First look at DJI’s cool new Mavic Air drone — We got a sneak peek at the smaller, lighter and less expensive Mavic Air drone and give our take on Talking Tech.
NAMM preview — A sneak peek at what to expect from this year’s NAMM show, where music meets technology, with NAMM CEO Joe Lamond
Talking Tech Rewind with JB Smoove — A classic from the vault, with the comedian explaining why peanut butter should be used on the backs of all smart phones.
Talking Tech Rewind with Joan Rivers — Another classic from the vault, with the late, great comedian talking tech.
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