The 1,800-square-foot store in downtown Seattle, officially dubbed Amazon Go, is the latest foray in bricks-and-mortar retail by the e-commerce giant, which already has bookstores (including one in San Diego) and is working on drive-through grocery locations.
It's a sign that Seattle-based Amazon sees a big opportunity in revolutionizing the traditions of Main Street commerce.
In the much longer term, if the experiment works out and is adopted widely, it could radically transform the nature of work in the retail industry, much like self-driving car and truck technology threatens to upend transportation.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics said in a report this year that cashiers were the second-largest occupation, with 3.5 million employed in the U.S.
The Amazon Go store is open to Amazon employees participating in a testing program. It is expected to be open to the public in early 2017.
Amazon says that what makes the store tick is a combination of computer vision, sensors and machine learning that it calls "Just Walk Out technology."
It can tell, say, when a particular shopper picks up a carton of milk from a physical shelf; the technology puts the milk in that shopper's virtual cart. It can also tell when an item is put back on the shelf — and removes it from the virtual cart accordingly.
Shoppers walking into the store would call up the Amazon Go app and hold their smartphone to a scanner as they would at an airport. Then they would pick up any combination of products and just walk out. Amazon would charge them after they leave the store.
Unlike the self-serve registers present at many supermarkets, there's no need to stand in line or go through any register. The store features ready-to-eat meals and snacks prepared by on-site chefs or local bakeries. There are also essentials such as bread and milk, as well as high-end cheese and chocolate.
Amazon says there will be well-known brands as well as "special finds we're excited to introduce to customers." That includes an Amazon Meal Kit, which contains ingredients needed to make a meal for two in 30 minutes.
Gonzalez writes for the Seattle Times/McClatchy.