Amazon is starting to sell its cashier-less shopping technology to other retailers, offering them camera systems that automatically record what shoppers pick up and walk out with.
“Since launching Amazon Go years ago, many retailers have expressed an interest in offering similar checkout-free shopping experiences to their customers,” the company said on justwalkout.com, a website set up to market the technology.
“We’re excited to now offer the ability for retailers to leverage Just Walk Out technology from Amazon in their stores,” adding that the installation can take “as little as a few weeks”.
The system allows customers to enter shops by scanning their credit card. Once inside, cameras and shelf-weight monitors track what they pick up and bill them accordingly. If the customer wants a receipt, they will need to enter their email address at a kiosk. The card and customer is then stored for future visits.
Amazon has several motivations for sharing its cashier-free technology, considered the most sophisticated among its competitors. As well as selling the technology itself — the cost of which was not divulged by the company — the Just Walk Out system runs on Amazon’s cloud computing platform, a segment that drove two-thirds of the company’s operating income in the last quarter.
The decision also opens up avenues for Amazon to collect more data on consumer habits beyond its own stores, and a greater number of stores using the technology will increase its reliability and accuracy through machine learning.
The move is similar to Ocado’s focus on commercialising its technology. The British company spent a decade perfecting the robotics and software for picking and delivering online grocery orders, and has around 1.5 per cent of the total UK grocery market.
But in recent years, its share price performance has been driven by the deals it has signed to provide that technology to others.
Amazon’s entry into the grocery sector with the purchase of Whole Foods in 2017 has prompted other supermarkets to accelerate their digital plans.
Since buying Whole Foods, Amazon has so far opened 25 Amazon Go stores in the US and recently extended the concept to a full-size grocery store in Seattle.
The company is also preparing to launch a number of “traditional” smaller stores, under a yet-to-be-unveiled brand, that would have human cashiers. Floor plans submitted to local regulators suggest these dual-purpose locations will be used as “microfulfilment” centres for increasing the delivery speeds of online orders, bringing Amazon’s warehousing infrastructure closer to communities. Amazon said the first of these hybrid stores will open in Los Angeles this year.
Despite these inroads, Amazon has not expanded into online grocery as aggressively as many expected. Today it handles about 4 per cent of the US groceries market.
“They’ve no interest in food retailing,” said Steve Dresser, founder of consultancy Grocery Insight, who has visited some of the Amazon Go stores in the US. He added that the technology was “wonderful” but questioned if it would work cost-effectively in large stores. “If they were reasonably confident in the need for it, or the demand, then surely they’d put it into Whole Foods?”
Amazon is not the only provider of such technology. Trigo Vision, an Israeli start-up, has agreed to install its cashierless system in more than 200 stores operated by Shufersal, Israel’s leading supermarket.
Bloomberg last year reported that it is also working with Tesco, although the UK supermarket has refused to comment.
Portuguese start-up Sensei, which is backed by German wholesaler Metro and Sonae, a technology investment specialist, is also working to commercialise a camera-based cashierless system.
Expanding this technology to other retailers, who do not independently have the knowhow to do so, will heighten concerns among workers’ rights groups.
“This so-called cashierless technology is nothing but a Trojan horse that will let Amazon control and monopolise competing retailers and give Jeff Bezos direct access to their customer data. It is time for regulators and our elected leaders to act before Amazon does lasting damage to our already-fragile economy,” said Marc Perrone, president of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union.
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