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Amazon’s Most Ambitious Research Project Is a Convenience Store

Jeff Bezos and his company have spent seven years and hundreds of millions of dollars getting rid of cashiers. Will it pay off?
An Amazon Go store in Seattle.

An Amazon Go store in Seattle.

Photographer: Ian Allen for Bloomberg Businessweek

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.