If it works -- and we'll learn for sure in the next couple of months -- it will utterly revolutionize the way we buy groceries. Scan your phone on the entry turnstile and the store's army of cameras will begin tracking your every move. Facial, body and object-recognition algorithms will enable the system to spot your purchase as you take it from the shelf and put it in your basket.
When you're done buying a mix of freshly made convenience foods and ingredients for your evening meal (including booze), you just gotta leave through the door. That's it. The system has your credit card details on file, and you'll instantly be billed for what you take as soon as you walk out. Except for the odd random spot check by a flesh-and-blood employee to ensure the system hasn't gone haywire and to verify alcohol purchases, you will have no human interaction.
As someone who hates both waiting in line and the unpleasant experience of convenience shopping, Go is a dream come true. If such a store were built into my main station in London, I'd be able to turn up for my journey a little closer to the departure time, knowing I could grab a pasta salad and bag of chips without waiting in line. (Automated checkout machines in supermarkets and convenience stores have mitigated this problem somewhat.)
Amazon has created a technical marvel here, assuming again that it all works outside of Amazon's own tests, which included a shopful of customers all dressed as Pikachu. A system capable of identifying that many users at once, and their purchases, all in real time, is a gargantuan achievement. It's likely that ironing out the kinks in this system was what caused the long delay between the store's planned launch and its opening today.
There's also the fact that Amazon, a company that never met a piece of data it didn't like, is going to learn so much from this project. Supermarkets already goose their customers looking for the best way to sell to them, from shelf placement and muzak choice through to loyalty card purchase tracking. Don't forget that Target was able to work out that a teenage girl was pregnant before she had told anyone, thanks to the power of its data.
Amazon is getting a piece of that action, and you can bet its cameras will be gaining insights from everything you do. From the way people stand as they browse through to how enthusiastically they reach their arm forward, it'll be logged and crunched. And all of this will be fed back into the system to ensure that customers get what they want, and that Amazon maintains their loyalty.
The company won't even need to retrofit its platforms into the network of Whole Foods stores it now owns, although it may do so in the future. The insights gleaned from even a handful of Go outlets will be a petri dish through which other experiments can be conducted.