Walking Around Amazontown, USA

Welcome to Seattle, its only a 3–4 hour bus/train/car ride away from Vancouver (like Hong Kong to Guangzhou) and famous for many thing, but to me: the food, the coffee and Pikes Market!

I haven’t been here for business before, so meeting and greeting with the startup community is what I was here for over 3 short days in August 2018.

Amazon Go

As any proud geek I fired up the Google Map to discover that the Amazon Go was nearby and open so a quick stroll there I entered the Future of RetailTech!

Here is the outside right next to Day 1 Amazon HQ in downtown Seattle.

The only staff there was one girl helping people to install the Amazon Go app which you need to tie to your Amazon account before you can enter through the turnstiles.

The promise of “Just Walk Out Shopping” awaited.

And here is the inside — its more like a convenience store than a full supermarket like a cross between a Pret-a-Manger and a 7-Eleven — with its grab and go sandwiches and prepped meal kits. Imagine walking in and out with a 6-pack like you were going to your closet to get it. But this is what you can do here.

I think Amazon makes a lot of money from us Curious George’s ;-) I just wanted to test it so I bought some snacks and tried to trick the system by putting things in my bag, and then putting it back somewhere else to see if I could trip up the system. I put a sandwich on top of a packet of almond butter to see if I could trick whatever system was tracking me.

There’s a 6-seat area if you wanted to eat your food right away with a microwave and utensils but most people grabbed the free orange Amazon Go bag and ran off with their goods.

Just like I did.

So off I went with a handful of items feeling like a shoplifter, but not getting a ping on my phone immediately. So I thought I had tricked their system.

But 2 minutes later as I was outside taking more photos the app pinged me with me purchase — and damn it got everything correct.

(Don’t worry — you can try and use my QR code, but their system knows its a screenshot and won’t work.)

Read the How It Works screen and you’ll learn there is computer vision (cameras everywhere!!!), sensor fusion (every shelf is actually a scale) and deep learning (it knows I’m not picking up fruit from my past purchases lol).

(Hey don’t judge me on the tofu: the tofu bahn mi was actually freaking delicious! Should have bought the full size one.)

Reaction: Very cool! So seamless an experience that it will become the norm and because of the “shoplifters guilt” every retailer will have to do it even Amazon Books! It’s definitely something that will affect every retail experience and also people will miss the check-out people (maybe). I loved it especially in this convenience store environment where you just want to grab something and go. Frictionless. Watching the cashier at Lawson’s in Tokyo beep 15 onigiri, 5 different sodas one-by-one is brain-numbing for everyone.

I just hope we can re-train all those cashier clerks.

The Spheres

I had a friend walk me through the Seattle (Amazon) Spheres as you can only go in with an employee:

So this is very unique to me — The Spheres took 5 years to create and are home to more than 40,000 plants from the cloud forest regions of over 30 countries — but to me it seemed like a new type of work experience, since I’m into Proptech, this is a fantastic look at the workplace of the future.

In the Summer, maybe not a good idea to be sitting in a live greenhouse to do emails — but in the cold Seattle winter this place will be an oasis that I think would even stimulate work, partly because you just want to stay inside than go outside. There was a restaurant and a coffee shop inside and Amazon Go is right next door and I’m sure Uber Eats also delivers so you could work in there forever.

Kudos to Amazon for using such a high profile area to show off their ideas instead of hiding it in a campus in South Bay and not sharing.

Amazon Books

OK this may be old for most of you reading this but I’ve never been before. There are a bunch of these Amazon Books stores in Seattle and I just happened to be in a mall with one of the startups I’m advising — Pixeryand we jumped in here together.

A book store with no prices (they charge you whatever the price is on their website at that time) and apparently they stock just the top rated books on Amazon.com too — it’s weird because many of them I had either bought already recently or they are in my Wish List or in my Shopping Cart. Almost felt like the put them out for me — or I have very generic book tastes.

You still have to pay for the books with human interaction, though.

I don’t get the Kindle— the top of the line one is the same price as an iPad, but it only reads books. I was going to buy one but that price point didn’t make it worth it, and the cheapest one looks a bit outdated. But, end of the day Mr. Bezos doesn't care, as I still buy books from him and read via the Kindle app on my iPad and iPhone.

Seattle Tech

One shout out here is to the StartupsHK of Seattle called New Tech — I dropped into one of their meet-ups and I was very impressed by the format.

When asked how many people had lived in Seattle for less than 4 weeks and half the room of 150 people raise their hands you know its an Amazon/Microsoft/Facebook expat town.

That is good and bad: good because when they are ready Seattle’s VC’s can invest in startup teams that have these goliaths on their resumes, but bad because when you find out how much they get paid and the perks they get, maybe doing a startup is not the most exciting thing to do except for the crazy few.

I like reading the local Seattle news site GeekWire.

Also, what happened in San Francisco is definitely happening in Seattle in regards to rent and cost of living. Hence, why I still have my money on Vancouver and the rest of British Columbia.

All in all a great visit — definitely could do more in Seattle and these are, of course, the public things that I can share.

On a final note if you’re interested in pop culture the MOPOP is incredible and here is a mass photo dump of 100 pix I snapped while inside.

And if you are a child of the 90’s or a fan of David Lynch — Twin Peaks is about a 45 minute drive east of Seattle and its all still there — the Double-R Cafe, the hotel, street sign, high school, the cherry pie and the damn fine cup of coffee — though not as damn fine as I wanted, not when you have Stumptown and the other great roasters nearby. Here’s a photo dump for you.



Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Casey Lau

thoughts on everything from startup ecosystems, conferences, anime, video games, comic books, digital entertainment to cats and ninjas.