I tricked the Amazon Go store.

It's not hard. You need an accomplice. The accomplice swaps two items on the shelf. You take one of the misplaced items. You get charged for the other. But that's not the point

Mechanical Turk?

Two days ago, I was on a trip to Seattle, and of course I visited the Amazon Go Store. If you are out of the loop, it's a store without checkout. You come into a store, you grab items from the shelves, you walk out. That's it.

Amazon doesn't explain how it works, but we can infer some from observations.

  1. When you walk out, you don't get a receipt instantly;
  2. The app sends you a receipt later;
  3. The time it takes their servers to present you a receipt varies. We had three people enter the store; the person who didn't spend much time got his receipt in 2-3 minutes, the accomplice in ~5 minutes, and me, it took Amazon the whopping 15-20 minutes to serve my receipt.

We can conclude that tricky interactions get sent for a human review, e.g. to Mechanical Turk, which Amazon conveniently owns. It seems that a bunch of object recognition coupled with a bit of mechanical-turking does the trick.

But it is the future

Once I've satisfied my curiosity, and managed to trick the store, I returned to use it for real.

I walked in, grabbed a bottle of water, and walked out. It took 22 seconds. I got a receipt for a bottle of water later, but I didn't even check.

Folks, this is the future.

In his article "Invisible Asymptotes", Eugene Wei attributes a lot of Amazon's achievement in winning retail consumers hearts to eliminating friction. He writes,

People hate paying for shipping. They despise it. It may sound banal, even self-evident, but understanding that was, I'm convinced, so critical to much of how we unlocked growth at Amazon over the years.

Interestingly, Eugene doesn't apply this to Amazon Go, but that's probably one visit to Seattle away. ;-) Waiting in checkout lines is the worst part of brick-and-mortar shopping experience; it's obvious to everyone who shopped at least once.

Therefore, Amazon Go is the future.

By the way, does anyone need a bottle of salad dressing?