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Amazon Go, Going, Gone?

Out-of-stock surprise in San Francisco
amazon go
Photograph by WGB staff

Shoppers at the Post Street Amazon Go in San Francisco were not spoiled for choice on Jan. 18, when they scanned their phones for entry into the conveniently checkout-free store only to find the cupboards were nearly bare.

Ironically, the mega-retailer that pioneered two-hour grocery delivery on a broad scale was unable to deliver much in the way of fresh food to its brick-and-mortar customers that afternoon.

“The selection available at any given time in our Amazon Go stores can vary depending on a number of factors, such as busy mealtimes, store hours, deliveries and more,” said an Amazon spokesperson.

“For example, when a store is close to its closing time, you’ll find less availability of our highly perishable foods like ready-to-eat salads, sandwiches and baked goods so we can replenish with fresh selection for the next day of operation and reduce food waste.”

The Post Street store is closed on Sundays. But for a business built on the premise of giving consumers what they want when they want it, the scores of signs which read “So good it’s gone” were an unexpected roadblock to shoppers hoping to pick up a meal kit, sandwich, salad or sushi, like the ones featured on the Amazon Go app for that location.

“We always strive to offer customers the products they’re looking for when shopping with us, and we continue to use customer feedback to improve the Amazon Go experience,” added the spokesperson.

In a fully stocked store, the Amazon Go checkout-free shopping experience, which uses computer vision, sensor fusion and deep-learning technologies to take the friction out of food shopping, has the potential to be a grocery game changer.

Seattle-based Amazon’s Just Walk Out Technology automatically detects when products are taken from or returned to the shelves and keeps track of them in a virtual cart. A short time after shoppers leave the store, they receive a receipt on their phones and a charge to their Amazon account.

If the shopper doesn’t make a purchase, as was the case for more than one person in the nearly barren San Francisco store last Saturday, the shopper still receives a receipt for a zero balance.

However, the promise of a fully stocked Amazon Go is compelling. “We offer delicious ready-to-eat breakfast, lunch, dinner and snack options made by our chefs and favorite local kitchens and bakeries," says the Amazon Go website. “Our selection of grocery essentials ranges from staples like bread and milk to artisan cheeses and locally made chocolates. For a quick home-cooked dinner, pick up one of our chef-designed Amazon Meal Kits, with all the ingredients you need to make a meal for two in about 30 minutes.”

Amazon Go operates 25 stores in San Francisco, Seattle, Chicago and New York. An additional store in Seattle at 1906 Terry Ave. is "coming soon."

Understocked stores are also reportedly an issue at several of Amazon’s Whole Foods Markets in the Washington, D.C., area. Multiple members of the Adams Morgan-North Dupont Nextdoor, a free social network for neighborhood communities, complained of bare shelves, poultry sections and out-of-stock staples, according to the Washington City Paper.

The report indicates that changes to the way Whole Foods manages its inventory since the Amazon acquisition have resulted in less back-of-the-store stock. The City Paper further suggested that Whole Foods’ “order-to-shelf” system, whereby items are stocked to shelves directly from delivery trucks to cut costs, reduce storage and waste, may also be a contributing factor.

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