"It'll be eight or nine minutes," the (live human) greeter says. He's wearing a spiffy orange puffy, as are all the greeters working the line that runs from the front door of Amazon Go to the corner of Seventh and Blanchard in downtown Seattle. It's 4:26 p.m. on Monday, January 22, 2018, the day of the high-tech grocery's launch, and the crowd is bustling.
Some Amazonians get in line behind me, identifiable as such by the proud way they're discussing the groundbreaking convenience store. They're new to town, too, with one of the sophomores giving a brief history lesson of the area to his freshman colleagues. Now, in place of yesteryear's rundown motels and abandoned lots, skyscrapers of steel and glass reign, and judging by the cranes, there's more on the way. The Amazon Spheres are just next door.
At 4:31 I step inside, three or four minutes ahead of schedule. As recommended, I'd downloaded the Amazon Go app ahead of time, and all I have to do is wave my phone across the sensor and the clear plastic gates part. From then on, every item I pick up will be billed directly to my Amazon account.
At 1,800 square feet, the store is small, the size of a neighborhood bodega rather than a bonafide supermarket. It's obvious who the intended shopper is. For every bag of Skittles, there are ten kinds of artisanal chocolate, along with the fancy shmancy snack foods that a busy, well-paid person would need to fuel up. There are no single bunches of kale or shiny gala apples, but there are plenty of prepackaged salads, sliced apple snack packs, and Amazon meal kits.
"This is the healthiest convenience store I've ever been in," says a shopper on her way to the chips and trail mix section. Instead of the fifteen brie options you would find at Whole Foods—which Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos just so happens to have purchased six months ago—there's only two or three, and overall the selection skews toward pre-made, rather than single ingredients you'd buy to cook a gourmet meal yourself.
Absent is the aggressively friendly clerk, as is the surly cashier standing in front of a backdrop of condoms and cigarettes. In fact, there's no cashier, which is the point. Also, no condoms or cigarettes. The only (live human) employees are the ones at the entrance monitoring the line, some food preppers in the back, and the single ID checker sitting by the beer and wine section. Because of the high volume of customers on opening day, a person is doing this job, since the ID scanning technology is not quite up to speed. He promises me that that it will be up and running soon. We don't mention the fact that this will make his position obsolete.
As I browse, the issue of obsolescence is on my mind. During the fifteen minutes I explore the store, I overhear a total of zero conversations about automation and its impact on the workforce as a whole, the economy, or the (live human) individuals who work in retail. Change is scary, and inevitably someone is going to lose, and someone else is going to win. If anyone else is thinking about that, then they're keeping their thoughts to themselves.
I choose a cow's-milk brie, some crackers, and a 365 brand bag of dried organic mango and walk out the door. And that's it—no waiting in line, no handing over my credit card, no making small talk with (live human) cashiers or baggers, no delay to going on with my busy day.