Checkout-free, cashless supermarkets -- a novelty shopping experience or the future of bricks and mortar retail? According to Amazon -- which turned the concept into a 10,400-square-foot reality -- it's the latter. After announcing its plans to license its automated checkout technology to other retailers, the company has revealed it has "several" signed deals with customers, and has launched a new website inviting inquiries from others interested in the "Just Walk Out" experience.
Amazon has been operating a number of these cashless convenience stores in the US since 2018. Shoppers download the Amazon Go app, beep themselves into the store using a QR code, then simply pick up whatever they want and leave. The store's item-tracking system knows what they've selected, and bills them automatically via the app. Last month, Amazon launched the first Go supermarket, where the concept has been applied to a significantly larger store and visitors are able to do an entire weekly shop, rather than just picking up necessities on the move.
So it's clear the concept works (indeed, Reuters reports that the market for cashier-less retail could grow to $50 billion). And now, instead of keeping it for itself, Amazon plans to share it with other retailers (for a price, of course) -- no doubt in a move to position itself ahead of future competition.
The venture will operate under the name "Just Walk Out." Rather than relying on an app, shoppers will inset a credit card into a gated turnstile, which will display a "Just Walk Out technology by Amazon" logo -- all other aspects of branding will be controlled by the retailer. As with Amazon Go stores, the system will recognize items picked up by customers, and bill them once they leave.
According to the Just Walk Out website, the tech can be incorporated into new build stores or retrofitted into existing spaces in a matter of weeks. Amazon will take care of the installation process, and there will be a 24/7 support line for businesses adopting the service.
In an interview with Reuters, Dilip Kumar, Amazon's vice president of physical retail and technology, kept schtum about which companies have signed up to the service -- he didn't reveal anything on pricing, either, simply noting that "a lot of those are bespoke deals." However, he did reiterate that Amazon's role in the Just Walk Out experience starts and ends with the technology -- the retailer is still responsible for its customers and indeed, the staff that would otherwise be operating its checkouts. Cashier-less tech has come under fire for its potential threat to jobs, but the Just Walk Out website claims the system only means that "their roles have simply shifted to focus on more valuable activities."
Meanwhile, when it comes to data -- another commonly-cited area of concern for checkout-free tech -- Amazon says it only collects the information needed to provide shoppers with an accurate receipt. Who specifically owns this data, and what it could be used for, is not clear.
It does seem, however, that while Amazon wants to get ahead in a market it has arguably created for itself, it will do so with carefully-considered parameters. At this juncture, it seems that its focus for Just Walk Out technology is smaller convenience stores, such as airport shops and arena kiosks, rather than major retailers such as Walmart and Target.
While Kumar didn't rule out the possibility of selling the tech to these kinds of rivals, it seems likely the company will want to better establish its own Just Walk Out supermarkets first before it makes the concept available to competitors. That being said, though, there are already a number of other vendors offering automated checkout systems to retailers, such as AiFi and Grabango. If cashier-less stores really are the future of retail, then other major chains won't need Amazon's tech to enjoy a slice of the pie.