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Amazon opened its much-anticipated cashier-less store in downtown Seattle on Monday to long lines of people thinking this would be the solution to waiting in line. Instead, it ended up being the easiest way to get free yogurt.
For those who aren’t familiar with the futuristic concept, Amazon Go allows shoppers to walk in, grab what they want, and just walk out, without ever having to wait at a checkout line or interact with a human. Before entering and leaving the convenient store, shoppers buzz in with their smartphones to notify the Go app that they’ve entered the store. The moment they step out, past a line of gates, a receipt for everything they purchased appears on their device.
I’m in Seattle and there is currently a line to shop at the grocery store whose entire premise is that you won’t have to wait in line. pic.twitter.com/fWr80A0ZPV— Ryan Petersen (@typesfast) January 22, 2018
At least, that’s what is supposed to happen. After a year of testing, the store—on its first day—failed, leading one reporter to accidentally shoplift a cup of yogurt. Amazon’s reaction? Surprisingly indifferent.
Feels like I just stole all this stuff. Also way easier to buy more when you know you’re not gonna see a register. Still waiting for my receipt to be convinced I didn’t steal something #AmazonGo pic.twitter.com/x4lbLGoDv2— Deirdre Bosa (@dee_bosa) January 22, 2018
CNBC tech reporter Deirdre Bosa immediately confessed on Twitter once she realized the futuristic store failed to charge her for a single-serving Siggi’s yogurt cup, making her the first person to (accidentally) shoplift an automated grocery store.
Bosa didn’t do anything wrong. She followed the rules exactly how Amazon wrote them up: Shop as though you were shoplifting. It just so happens that in this case, she really was. Amazon responded appropriately, “First and foremost, enjoy the yogurt on us,” Amazon Go’s vice president Gianna Puerini told Bosa.
She then reassured the reporter that her experience with Go was an anomaly, that it “happens so rarely that we didn’t even bother building in a feature for customers to tell us it happened.” She added that she’s been using the store for a year now and has yet to see an error. Amazon didn’t provide an explanation for why its system didn’t recognize the yogurt cup or reveal plans to make improvements.
Siggi’s also seemed happy to lose a sale, perhaps because its yogurt will now go down in Amazon history.
oh no! It's ok, that one's on us 😉— siggi's (@siggisdairy) January 22, 2018
Amazon has only offered vague details about the magic it uses to ensure all items are scanned and paid for. The company says the stores are loaded with tech buzzwords: computer vision, sensor fusion, and deep learning. In other words, dozens of sensors and cameras bring all the data they capture together to increase the store’s reliability. To its credit, the 1,800-square foot market wasn’t fooled when a New York Times reporter wrapped a shopping bag around a four-pack of vanilla soda in a deliberate attempt to shoplift.
But there are clearly kinks to work out, and—given how confident it is in its technology—Amazon is inviting people to look for them. Fancy “Icelandic” variety or not, Siggi’s is yogurt, a single serving only costs a couple dollars, not nearly enough to affect the retail giant, but you can imagine the loses Amazon would face if this became a trend.
Phillip Tracy is a former technology staff writer at the Daily Dot. He's an expert on smartphones, social media trends, and gadgets. He previously reported on IoT and telecom for RCR Wireless News and contributed to NewBay Media magazine. He now writes for Laptop magazine.