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What Amazon Go Means for the Future of Retail

By Published on .

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It's not quite Minority Report's eyeball-scanning Gap store, but it's pretty close. On Monday, Amazon announced Amazon Go, the tech company's latest disruption of the retail industry -- a grocery store where consumers can swipe the retailer's app, take what they want to buy from shelves, and walk out without any traditional check-outs, registers or lines.

"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," said a voiceover in a two-minute introductory video available on Amazon's site that compares the technology of the program to that of self-driving cars. "No lines, no check-out, no registers. Welcome to Amazon Go."

Now in beta mode with Amazon employees, the 1,800-square-foot store, selling ready-made meals and grocery staples, should open to the public next year. It is located in Seattle, where the 22-year-old brand is headquartered.

For years, retailers and tech companies have touted futuristic possibilities like the new store Amazon is introducing. In one memorable, 10-year-old ad that Reddit users quickly referenced for its similarity on Monday, IBM featured a man who appeared to be shoplifting from a store, but was actually purchasing items via RFID technology.

Amazon has more likely invested in motion-capturing cameras and beacon technology, experts said, based on the company's own description of the store. But the vast number of retailers in business today still use traditional checkouts, including grocers who make use of self-checkout registers Many brands lack the financial resources to make the technological investment involved in such a futuristic upgrade, so a similar store rolling out to the masses beyond Amazon's pilot could still be a decade away.

"The development of the technology is something a traditional grocer would never be able to fund themselves," said Greg Portell, lead partner in the retail practice of A.T. Kearney, a global strategy and management consulting firm. "This is Amazon taking advantage of their other R&D programs, their willingness to experiment at scale."

He noted that the challenge for Amazon will be creating an error-free checkout. "The idea of a frictionless experience is great until that frictionless experience causes more headaches than it's worth."

Contributing: Garett Sloane