Amazon’s cashier-free Go stores may only need six human employees

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Amazon’s bold checkout-free convenience store concept has only one location today, but if the company’s expansion plans pan out, we could start seeing a radical rethinking of physical retail nationwide. According to the New York Post, Amazon plans to mandate that future, supermarket-sized versions of its automated Go stores have a max of 10 human employees staffing any given location. On average, the company plans to use six people per shift, the report states, with Amazon relying on robotic automation and software to do most of the heavy lifting.

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As part of a new two-story layout for future Go supermarkets, a staff of anywhere from three to 10 employees per shift could keep things running. The New York Post reports that one employee could be used to stock shelves, while another could act as a manager for guest services, which may include signing up customers for Amazon Fresh grocery delivery. Two additional employees would be used to oversee drive-thru windows, while another two would aid robotic grocery-bagging machines that prep orders and deliver them to customers on conveyor belts. Depending on the size of the store and the time of day, this headcount can be trimmed or expanded on by about three to four people.

The ultimate goal is to cut down on labour costs and further remove unnecessary human interaction from the physical shopping experience. The first Go convenience store removed the checkout process, relying on sensors to keep track of what items are taken off shelves. The Post reports that Amazon is thinking of requiring a Prime membership to enter its stores to kerb the potential for shoplifting. It could also employ greeters to stand near the entrance to ensure people don’t grab items without first scanning their Amazon account at the entrance.

Still, it’s unclear exactly how many employees staff the current Go store in Seattle. It’s also unclear how Amazon plans to expand its physical retail in general beyond the select handful of brick-and-mortar bookstores it currently operates. When reached by the Post, Amazon denied that it’s planning to build two-story Go stores. In a statement given to The Verge, Amazon said, “As we told the New York Post, we have no plans to build such a store and their story is incorrect.”

Last December, Amazon also denied a report from the Wall Street Journal that said it plans to open more than 2,000 retail locations covering a variety of store sizes and formats. The Post says that, despite this, the company is indeed planning a gradual rollout of more stores in varying sizes by as early as late 2017. Amazon already has dozens of pop-up kiosks around the country focused on informing consumers about Alexa devices and selling Prime memberships. So it would make sense for the Go model — if it does indeed provide benefit consumers truly want — to continue expanding beyond one shape and size. For now, however, Amazon doesn’t appear ready or eager to acknowledge any such plans.