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Skip the line (and the cashier): How close are we to checkout-free shopping?

An Amazon logo on the side of a building
An Amazon logo on the side of a building
Ina Fassbender/AFP/Getty Images

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Possibly coming soon to an airport near you? Checkout-free shopping.

Last week, Reuters reported that according to public records and a person familiar with the strategy, Amazon is looking at how it would apply its cashier-less, checkout line-free store format called Amazon Go to airports, with the idea being to corner a market of consumers who are in a rush and need something that is already prepared and easy to transport. Additionally, the Wall Street Journal reported last week that the retail giant is also testing out its technology for use in larger stores. The stores where it’s currently in use are smaller but Amazon wants to find out how the tech works in a larger store layout where you might have tall shelves and a larger number of products to track.

We first told you about this technology in late 2016 after the company opened up its first Amazon Go in its hometown of Seattle with plans to open more than 2,000 locations in total. Since then, seven locations in Seattle, Chicago and San Francisco have started using the checkout-free model. Customers scan their smartphones at a turnstile as they enter the store and choose the products they want to purchase. Amazon Go’s store cameras and sensor technology on the shelves are able to detect the items customers take, add it to a virtual cart linked to that person’s Amazon account, and then charge the purchase to that account.

How are the currently operating Amazon Go stores faring in terms of business? How soon are we likely to see checkout-free stores in Southern California? What about nationwide? And is there still a role for the traditional checkout line in the future of retail? And what does this mean for the customer service experience, which is one reason why many shoppers patronize certain retailers repeatedly?


Laura Stevens, a San Francisco-based e-commerce reporter for the Wall Street Journal; she co-wrote the article; she tweets @LauraStevensWSJ

Sucharita Kodali, e-commerce analyst at Forrester Research, a technology research and advisory firm based in Cambridge, MA; she tweets @smulpuru