No Cashier? No Problem

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Amazon doubled down on technology that enables shoppers in brick-and-mortar stores to skip the checkout line.

What’s new: Amazon opened its first full-scale supermarket that monitors which items customers place in their cart and charges them automatically when they leave. It calls the system Just Walk Out.

How it works: At the 25,000-square-foot Amazon Fresh supermarket in Belleveue, Washington, overhead cameras equipped with computer vision identify items customers put in their cart. In addition, weight-detecting sensors log whenever they move items from or back to store shelves. Back-end systems track the data to manage inventory.

  • Shoppers who have registered with Amazon can choose the automated checkout system as they enter the store by scanning a QR code, credit card, or hand.
  • If they use the same method to exit the store, the system will charge their account. (The store also has traditional checkout lanes for old-fashioned shoppers.)
  • Amazon licensed its Just Walk Out technology to other stores including Hudson Markets, OTG Cibo Express, and Delaware North.

Behind the news: Amazon previously has deployed the technology in 26 convenience stores in the UK and U.S., most of which are much smaller than its new emporium.

  • At some stores, the company also uses Dash carts that charge customers automatically via sensors that monitor what goes in and out.
  • Rival companies AiFi, Grabango, and Standard Cognition license similar technology for checkout-free shopping.

Why it matters: The big-store rollout suggests that Amazon is confident that Just Walk Out will scale. The company’s addition of Dash carts at some locations had prompted speculation that the storewide surveillance system could only work in small markets with limited inventory, according to The Verge.

We’re thinking: This technology may help relieve the current shortage of retail workers. In the longer term, though, it's part of a trend toward automation that’s bound to impinge on jobs. Such developments make it all the more urgent that society at large offer training and reskilling to anyone who wants them.

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