Future Tense

Amazon’s New Checkout-Free Grocery Store Doesn’t Take Food Stamps

Amazon's new checkout-free store.
Convenient, if you can afford it.
Amazon

Monday marks the public opening of Amazon’s first eponymous grocery store: Amazon Go. But unlike the Whole Foods grocery stores Amazon owns, this brick-and-mortar shop in Seattle is supposed to represent the pinnacle of convenience. There are no lines. No checkout counters. Customers are supposed to use a smartphone app and trust the store’s network of A.I.-infused sensor and camera systems to complete their purchases. Scan your smart phone app, take something off the shelf, and leave.

But the convenience isn’t for everyone: The Amazon Go store doesn’t accept food stamps, a customer service representative confirmed Monday morning. That’s a letdown you wouldn’t have seen mentioned in the giddy coverage of the opening, which has explained how the new store works, how Amazon has spent five years perfecting the technology, and how the company did extensive research on how people really hate standing in lines.

Elsewhere, Amazon has made a little progress on this score. Last January, it joined six other online grocery retailers in a two-year pilot program accepting Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits in three states. And over the summer, the company started offering a steep discount on Prime membership for anyone with a valid Electronic Benefits Transfer card, which transfers money to people on government programs like Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and the SNAP food stamps program, cutting the monthly price from $10.99 a month to $5.99 a month. (Last week, Amazon increased the cost of its Prime Membership to $12.99 a month but, according to the company’s website, it doesn’t appear that increase impacted customers getting the EBT discount.)

It’s common for grocery and convenience stores to accept EBT cards, from Whole Foods to Target to Safeway to 7 Eleven. And more and more farmers markets are starting to do so, as well. The Metropolitan Market, a gourmet grocery chain in Seattle, also accepts EBT cards, a representative confirmed.

I asked Amazon if it plans to accept SNAP benefits at its Go store in the future—and will update when I hear back.

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April Glaser

April Glaser is a staff writer at Slate.