MILL CREEK — Mill Creek Mayor Brian Holtzclaw had never heard of Amazon Go until he saw an announcement from the online retail giant Jan. 25.
“I just heard Amazon storefront, and you had me at Amazon,” he said.
Amazon Go is one of several brick-and-mortar retail chains operated by the company. There are seven locations around downtown Seattle, as well as stores in San Francisco, Chicago and New York City.
And now, Mill Creek will be the newest site of a cashier-less convenience store, where sensors and cameras track shoppers’ every move, Amazon announced last week. The store off 132nd Street SE will be the first Amazon Go in the state outside of Seattle, as part of a move to expand to the suburbs.
The 6,150-square-foot store will offer grab-and-go food, snacks, beverages, beer and wine, and a few everyday essentials, an Amazon spokesperson said in an email, along with a request that the spokesperson’s name not be published.
The store is set to open in the coming months, the spokesperson said.
On Monday on Fourth Avenue in downtown Seattle, customers walked into an Amazon Go with smartphones in hand, opened their Amazon Shopping app and scanned a code to pass a gate. Once inside, they grabbed sandwiches, snacks and drinks. Then they walked out, no checkout required.
Purchases were automatically charged to online accounts.
If you pick up a cold brew coffee, it shows up in your virtual cart. Put it back, it’s removed.
Dozens of cameras, pointed in all directions, stare down from the ceiling at customers.
Amazon uses “computer vision, sensor fusion, and deep learning” to track customers’ every move, the same technology used in self-driving cars, according to the company’s website.
Convenience is a main draw for Amazon Go customers.
On Monday, Kiyoko Castillo stopped by the Fourth Avenue store in Seattle, a few blocks from her work. She had left her wallet at home, but could shop without it at Amazon Go.
“It’s a good option,” she said.
She likes skipping the checkout lines, too.
“It’s faster,” she said.
But with convenience comes “ubiquitous personal surveillance,” as the author of a TechCrunch article wrote when the first Amazon Go opened in 2018.
No facial recognition is used, the article states.
“Instead, the system uses other visual cues and watches for continuity between cameras — you’re never not in sight of a lens, so it’s easy for the system to see a shopper move from one camera to another and make the connection,” the author wrote.
The automated store still employs humans. On Monday at the Seattle store, one employee in a bright orange shirt cleared up a reporter’s confusion about how to use the app.
Most customers seemed to get it, flashing their smartphones and strolling into the store. At one point, however, two people were barred entry because they didn’t know how it worked.
Customers need an Amazon account, the free Amazon Shopping app and a recent smartphone. Once you get the technology down, it’s fairly straightforward. Amazon Go purchases appear in the same “your orders” tab as online purchases.
The Amazon Go in Mill Creek will anchor the Shops at the Farm, a new 82,000-square-foot commercial center at a former buffalo farm.
The Mill Creek mayor, who is also a city councilmember, had been unaware of the company’s plans to open a store in town.
“This was pleasant news to all the council,” he said. “It’s exciting.”
Holtzclaw believes Amazon Go will be a boon for other businesses.
“The value of having a tenant like Amazon, that’s going to drive people there and help make the other businesses successful,” he said.
Last week, Mill Creek resident Paula Olvera said she had never heard of Amazon Go, either. Her reaction when she learned about it on the news: “Cool, Amazon is here.”
Olvera, a resident of a 55-plus community down the street, said she would shop at the new store.
“It’s more convenient because I don’t have to cross the street” to the gas station, she said.
Mill Creek Chamber of Commerce President Kevin Giboney was also excited about Amazon Go.
“I think it’s a great thing for Mill Creek … for Amazon to recognize the uniqueness of the community and designate this as a good spot for it,” he said.
The store is part of Amazon’s ever-widening footprint in Snohomish County. For example, a 635,000-square-foot fulfillment center is opening in Arlington, and Amazon founder Jeff Bezos is opening a free preschool in Everett.
The new Mill Creek shopping center has been fully leased to tenants, Jenifer VanGerpen, director of development for Vintage Housing, told the Mill Creek City Council on Jan. 25.
Sixteen other businesses are scheduled to move in: five restaurants, a fitness studio, a medical clinic, a dentist, an art studio and more.
Another anchor tenant will be the 76-room La Quinta Lodges Boutique Hotel, VanGerpen said.
Vintage Housing already operates a 354-unit affordable housing complex at the same site. VanGerpen said the units are 65% occupied and 75% leased.