Go for Broke

While Amazon considers whether to site its much-vaunted second headquarters in Lower Manhattan (one of 20 prospective locations that the company has shortlisted, from a previous total of more than 100 contenders), it appears already to have decided to open an outpost of its experimental retail brand here. According to a story first reported by online technology newsletter Recode, the Seattle-based online retailer is finalizing arrangements to bring the sixth location of its Amazon Go chain to Brookfield Place.

A revolutionary reimagining of the traditional brick-and-mortar store, Amazon Go eschews not only cash, but also cashiers, and even automated checkout kiosks. Instead, shoppers (carrying a smartphone with the Amazon Go app) simply walk into the space, pick up what they wish to purchase, and leave, without waiting on any line. This is made possible by an array of emerging technologies such as computer vision, artificial intelligence, geofencing, sensor fusion, and shelves designed to detect the weight of merchandise being lifted off — all of which converge to identify shoppers as they enter, maintain a running total of the price for all they they pick up while there (less anything they put back), and then digitally charge them as they leave.

The first Amazon Go store opened at the company’s headquarters in Seattle in 2016, but access was initially limited to its own employees. By January of this year, the technology had been refined to the point that the firm was ready to allow the public to experience it. Two additional Seattle locations followed this year, with two more opening in Chicago in recent months. All of these outposts offer a combination of freshly prepared meals, groceries, and a limited selection of wines, making them loosely akin to a convenience store like 7-Eleven, but with a more upscale atmosphere.

The company initially tried to be discrete about its plans for New York, but when thinly disguised local job postings were noticed online in September, Amazon reluctantly fessed up and acknowledged that it was preparing to plant its flag in Manhattan. But the planned location remained mysterious, until now.

The Winter Garden, within Brookfield Place, will soon house a new outpost of Amazon’s attempt to reinvent retail: the Amazon Go store.

The Amazon Go store in Brookfield Place will be located directly off of the Winter Garden, on the second level, near the top of the round staircase. The store will sit between the security screening station for the American Express offices in the 200 Vesey Street building and the Oliver Peoples Eyewear outlet. No opening date for the store has been announced.

Amazon Go is distinct from several other kinds of physical presence that the firm has locally, such as the Amazon Locker facilities found in multiple Lower Manhattan retail stores (these are essentially automated stations for receiving deliveries on behalf of customers) and Amazon 4 Star, which is a traditional store (the nearest location is in SoHo), where the merchandise consists of the most popular items on the firm’s website.

The technology that will be used at the Amazon Go store may be a portent of what shopping is poised to become. Amazon has already announced that it intends to migrate the techniques developed there to its Whole Foods subsidiary. And the firm is considering opening as many as 3,000 Amazon Go storefronts in the next five years.

But this vision of the future also presents some troubling questions. Because admission to the store is restricted to those who own smartphones, it is unclear whether this will amount to discrimination against those who don’t have the means to purchase such expensive devices. And the inability to make purchases with cash also rules out cash equivalents used by people living near or below the poverty line, such as food stamps.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *