Will Amazon Go deliver more convenience at the convenience store?
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Just Walk Out – the checkout-free grocery store that’s paving the way for a tech savvy customer experience – has opened.
Amazon Go has opened its doors in the US city of Seattle to customers who seek a quick, cashless, checkout-free shopping experience.
The Just Walk Out artificial intelligence based retail model allows shoppers to browse, choose products and leave the Amazon Go convenience store without standing in line to check out. Computer vision and machine learning based technology, together with on-shelf sensors and hidden cameras, track the customers’ every move, automatically detecting when products are taken from or returned to the shelves.
“It was really advancing the state of the art of computer vision and machine learning.”
“This technology didn’t exist,” said Gianna Puerini, vice president of Amazon Go, during an interview at the store opening. “It was really advancing the state of the art of computer vision and machine learning.”
By downloading the Amazon Go App, shoppers ‘tap-in’ to enter the store via public transport style gates – at this point the tracking begins. Any produce picked up by the customer is automatically charged to their Amazon account on leaving the store and a digital receipt is issued.
The opening follows Amazon’s acquisition of the Whole Foods chain. This has fuelled speculation that if successful, the retail giant may rollout its model to the entirety of its stores. The industry is now watching to see if Amazon’s AI retail solution will be popular with consumers and a cost-effective model to transpose elsewhere.
China’s JD.com goes one step further
However, China’s online giant JD.com may have pipped Amazon to the post, announcing its plans to launch hundreds of unmanned grocery stores. The retailer has already trialled a concept store at its headquarters in Beijing.
JD.com’s concept integrates various smart technologies, including facial recognition, to identify shoppers via ceiling cameras and image recognition, heat mapping and Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) to track customers’ whereabouts. The solution also allows retailers to monitor traffic flow, stock efficiency and observe customer preferences. This data will enable the retailer to generate personalised promotions and adverts.
A new ‘big brother’
The ultimate retail experience is solved. Everyone’s happy? Maybe not… The psychological impact of walking into a store and walking out with whatever you desire and not stopping to make that transaction is raising concerns over impulse buying.
Likewise, having a new ‘big brother’ watch, track and collect data on your every move may equally have an impact if widely adopted.
Removing checkouts from stores highlights an immediate concern – what happens to the 3.5m people who are employed as cashiers in the US if the technology is adopted? Amazon believes a change of role for employees is all that is needed at present.
“We’ve just put associates on different kinds of tasks where we think it adds to the customer experience,” said Puerini.
Alternative tasks include helping customers with technical queries and finding items. Furthermore, with no cashiers at checkout, Amazon Go employees sit within the alcoholic beverage section of the store to check the customer’s ID before they take bottles off the shelf.
“The coolness of the technology will undoubtedly get people to check it out. But the quality is what will get them to come back.”
During an interview discussing the implications of Amazon’s AI retail model, Jeff Lenard, spokesman for the National Association of Convenience Stores (US) said, “The coolness of the technology will undoubtedly get people to check it out. But the quality is what will get them to come back.”