Amazon has opened newly constructed Amazon Fresh and Whole Foods stores featuring its Just Walk Out (JWO) service and is offering the technology to third-party retailers.
Available at Amazon Go stores since 2017, JWO is made possible through a combination of ceiling-mounted cameras equipped with computer vision, shelf sensors, and deep learning.
Shoppers selecting JWO first scan the in-store code in the store’s app, use Amazon One’s palm-scanning payment technology, or insert a credit or debit card linked to their Amazon account.
They use the same method when leaving the store. The technology automatically detects when products are taken from or returned to the shelves and keeps track of them in a virtual cart. A receipt is sent to the app.
Some people may feel uneasy about the notion of having their every movement scrutinized and analyzed. But much of this perception seems to be generational.
“Younger people who have grown up in a digital world have a willingness to let the world intrude in their environment,” says Bruce Peterson, CEO of Peterson Insights, Inc. in Bentonville, AR.
“I see no issues with people feeling uncomfortable with these things and turning over their lives to a piece of technology.”
High-tech = high cost
The technology for JWO requires an enormous investment to retrofit an existing store.
And while walk-out service is gaining ground in small formats like airport kiosks, convenience stores, and even college campus grocery stores, there are questions about whether the technology is scalable to large-format grocers given the cost and large number of SKUs.
“Amazon has already licensed its Just Walk Out technology to a number of retailers, from Sainsbury’s to WH Smith [in the United Kingdom]. In both cases the technology is being used in small-store formats,” says Toby Pickard, head of innovation and futures at the Institute of Grocery Distribution (IGD) in East Hertfordshire, England.
But he notes that JWO implementation in the larger Whole Foods store “demonstrates the direction of travel that Amazon is pursuing, and it will likely mean that other retailers will go down this route in the future, as long as the technology proves valuable to shoppers and is financially viable to the retailer.”
But Amazon is not the only game in town. Startups like Israel-based Trigo and California-based Grabango offer similar technology.
Peterson believes it’s the future of retailing. “The chance of going into a retailer and finding a cashier five years from now will be as likely as going to a gas station and having someone pump your gas.”
Certainly, the technology is expected to continue to evolve, and there will be winners and losers.
As Grabango CEO Will Glaser noted in a January website blog, “The winners will deploy checkout-free systems that thrive at the intersection of delighting shoppers, retrofitting stores, and reducing costs. Battle lines are being drawn…”
This is an excerpt from the Applied Technology feature in the July/August 2022 issue of Produce Blueprints Magazine. Click here to read the whole issue.