“Four years ago, we started to wonder: what would shopping look like if you could walk into a store, grab what you want and just go?” asks the voiceover in a glossy promotional video for Amazon Go, Amazon’s chain of convenience stores that launched in the US in 2017. The venture – which has since been rebranded as Amazon Fresh – launched in the UK earlier this year, with the most recent opening in Hackney, London just this month.
With Amazon Fresh stores at the cutting edge of surveillance shopping, the tech giant has worked hard to avoid any fanfare about the opening of its new UK stores, likely due to the anticipated controversy around the use of such technology. Campaigners, however, are keen to raise the alarm about the stores’ potential implications – for privacy, workers’ rights, food sovereignty and the wellbeing of local communities.
‘An effortless experience.’
Amazon Fresh stores use ‘Just Walk Out’ technology, whereby customers enter the shop using a smartphone logged into their Amazon account, select their items – monitored by a network of sensors and cameras – and leave, all without having to go through any kind of check-out process; instead, their purchases are charged directly to their Amazon account.
According to Amazon, ‘Just Walk Out’ stores make for “an effortless experience”, and leverage “the same types of technologies used in self-driving cars: computer vision, sensor fusion, and deep learning”. Significantly, the corporation is also selling this technology to other retailers.