Bloomberg Businessweek
The Zillion Dollar Convenience Store Image Credit: Bloomberg Businessweek
The Zillion Dollar Convenience Store Image Credit: Bloomberg Businessweek

The Zillion-Dollar Convenience Store

Seven years ago, Jeff Bezos started an ambitious effort to rid the world of checkout lines. Has Amazon Go invented a new retail paradigm or a ridiculously expensive way to sell lunch?

Brad Stone

In the fall of 2015, Amazon executives in charge of a top-secret project to revolutionize grocery stores invited Jeff Bezos to evaluate their work. They’d leased a warehouse in south Seattle and converted part of the ground floor into a 15,000-square-foot mock supermarket, with plywood walls, shelves, and turnstiles, mimicking technology that would scan shoppers’ smartphones when they walked in.

The Amazon chief executive officer and several assistants pretended to shop, pushing grocery carts down aisles stocked with canned food and plastic fruit and vegetables. There were specialty counters where Amazon employees posing as baristas, butchers, and cheesemongers took orders and added items to Bezos’ imaginary bill.

Afterward, according to a person who was there, Bezos gathered the project executives and told them that while they all had done a fabulous job, the experience felt disjointed. Customers would have to wait for meat, seafood, and fruit to be weighed and added to their bill, which would have been fine except that the major selling point of the store was supposed to be the absence of time-wasting checkout lines. Bezos asked the group to lose the meat and cheese and focus on getting rid of lines and cashiers. “It was one of those Amazon things,” another employee recalls with regret. “We love it—let’s change everything!”

Almost four years later there are 14 Amazon Go stores in Chicago, New York, S

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