What would shopping look like if you could walk into a store, grab what you need, and just go? No lines, no registers. Retail titan Amazon is bringing this concept to reality with its new “Just Walk Out” technology that uses your smart device as a virtual checkout.
Amazon says its checkout-free shopping experience is powered by computer vision, sensor fusion and deep learning – notably the same types of technologies behind self-driving cars. The Amazon Go mobile app automatically detects when products are taken from or returned to the shelves, keeping track of them in a virtual cart. When you’re done shopping, you can just leave the store. Amazon simply charges your Amazon account and sends you a receipt.
Amazon is beta testing the concept at a 1,800 square foot retail space nearby the company’s headquarters in Seattle. It’s open only to Amazon employees now, with a planned public launch later this year. The Wall Street Journal reports Amazon is delaying the formal launch as it works out some technical glitches, including hiccups when too many shoppers are in the store at once and accurately tracking items that are returned to the wrong shelves when consumers change their minds about purchasing them.
Just how the app will work in different scenarios is up in the air, says Wired. Beyond the sensors and technologies, David Luan, the CEO of AI startup Dextro, told Wired that the system would involve computer vision to mirror what shoppers are seeing and picking up, added shelf sensors, and a way to connect a user to their identity, perhaps zapping a QR code as the shopper enters the store. Also unanswered is how produce items sold by weight are priced, as well as how family members shopping together are merged into one virtual cart.
Forbes speculates that Amazon’s endgame isn’t to emerge as a leader in the grocery sector, but instead is to refine its payments business and build upon its expansion into physical retail spaces – all with the goal of driving traffic to and generating further sales on amazon.com.
No doubt Amazon will continue to reshape the retail game. Forbes notes that when a customer links their smart device to the Amazon Go app and starts shopping, every item picked up, put down or purchased generates data, helping the retail giant learn shopping preferences and further targeting advertising and alerts that completely customize the shopping experience.
Kathryn Hamilton, CAE, is Vice President for Marketing and Communications at NAIOP Corporate.