Amazon earned its e-commerce bona fides more than 20 years ago by reducing the checkout process to a single click. The company’s new Amazon Go store, in downtown Seattle, represents a similar revolution. Gianna Puerini and Dilip Kumar have redesigned the neighborhood grocery as a cashier-free experience. Shoppers identify themselves (and their Amazon account) by scanning their phones upon entering. Ceiling-mounted cameras and AI software identify items as they’re removed from shelves—and shoppers simply leave when they’re done. People queued up around the block when Go opened in January. Amazon is reportedly planning to open up to six more this year, and the “just walk out” concept has already been cloned in China.
Fast Company: When you set out to create this store, did you feel like, “We can do this” or “This seems preposterous”?
Dilip Kumar: We had to keep distinguishing between things that were impossible and things that just hadn’t been done before. Other grocers have created technology that lets shoppers scan each item, pay on their phone, and walk out, but we deliberately decided not to do that. It wouldn’t have been effortless.
FC: What was the hardest technology challenge you faced in making Go a reality?
DK: Amazon has a history of using machine learning and computer vision in its consumer business. We relied on that, but we spent a lot of the time developing the right cameras to build upon that technology. They’re 10 feet away from the merchandise, and we have to figure out who’s buying what. All of that we had to build from scratch.
FC: Amazon now owns a large chain of grocery stores. Can we expect to see Go technology in Whole Foods?
Gianna Puerini: There are no plans to use the technology at Whole Foods. We asked ourselves, “Where are you often in a rush?” Food went to the top of the list. The follow-[up] was, “Well, what kind of food store is best suited to that value proposition?”
FC: What surprised you about how people react to the Amazon Go experience?
GP: I knew people would like getting a little time back, but I underestimated how it would feel to actually leave the store. We found so many customers stopping and asking one of our associates, “Are you sure it’s okay if I just walk out?” That’s a cooler, more magical moment than I imagined.
Dilip Kumar and Gianna Puerini are Nos. 12 and 13 on the 2018 Most Creative People in Business list. Check out all 100 people here.