Amazon's checkout-free store opens to the public January 22nd

It took ages to arrive, but automated retail is nearly here.

Mike Kane/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Amazon's bid to automate the convenience store is finally ready for the public. The company has confirmed that the Amazon Go store attached to its new Seattle headquarters will be open to non-employees on January 22nd, or more than a year later than planned. The premise remains the same. You have to scan in with a smartphone app when you enter the store, but it's largely friction-free beyond that. A computer vision AI system tracks the items you remove from the shelves, letting you walk out without talking to a cashier or using a self-checkout machine. The only staff you'll likely see are for ID checking (when buying alcohol), greeters and the kitchen.

Don't expect to buy everything you'd normally find in a convenience store. Recode likens it to a more elaborate Pret A Manger with ready-to-eat meals as well as drinks, meat, produce, snacks and Amazon's own meal kits. The main allure, of course, is the speed. You can walk in, grab a veggie wrap and walk out in a matter of seconds.

There aren't any concrete plans for additional Go stores, and that will likely depend on how well the technology works. How will the AI cope with a busy store, or the inevitable moments when customers have second thoughts and put a product back on the wrong shelf? If it does work, though, it could justify the fears of Walmart and others that have been testing cashier-free stores as a counter to Amazon's expected strategy. It's hard enough for conventional retailers to draw you in when you can order many things straight from Amazon -- they'll face an even tougher battle if Amazon can bring that simplicity to the need-it-now world of retail.