Amazon just walked out on its self-checkout technology

The company is removing Just Walk Out from Fresh grocery stores in the US.


Amazon is removing Just Walk Out tech from all of its Fresh grocery stores in the US, as reported by The Information. The self-checkout system relies on a host of cameras, sensors and good old-fashioned human eyeballs to track what people leave the store with, charging the customers accordingly.

The technology has been plagued by issues from the onset. Most notably, Just Walk Out merely presents the illusion of automation, with Amazon crowing about generative AI and the like. Here’s where the smoke and mirrors come in. While the stores have no actual cashiers, there are reportedly over 1,000 real people in India scanning the camera feeds to ensure accurate checkouts.

It’s also incredibly expensive to install and maintain the necessary equipment, which is likely why Just Walk Out technology was only adopted at around half of Fresh stores in the US. There have been plenty of frustrating issues for consumers when using this system, from receipts being sent out hours after purchase to completely mismanaged orders. In other words, it took a vast array of sensitive equipment and 1,000 people staring at video feeds to do the job of one or two people sitting behind cash registers at each store. Ain’t modern innovation grand? To be fair, Amazon reached out to Engadget to say that the tech "has continued to scale while reducing the number of human reviews year-over-year."

There’s also some major privacy concerns here. Remember those cameras and sensors? They can be used to collect biometric information as people shop. This goes beyond Amazon’s palm-scanning tech, as the cameras and sensors measure the shape and size of each customer’s body for identification and tracking purposes. This led to a class action suit in New York that accused the company's Amazon One technology of collecting biometric identifier information without properly disclosing the practices to consumers.

The suit says that Amazon ran afoul of the state’s Biometric Identifier Information Law, which requires businesses to tell customers if they are collecting data used for identification purposes. Peter Romer-Friedman, an attorney representing the plaintiffs, told The Seattle Times that “Amazon owes its customers an explanation about how it’s operating these systems before people enter — so that people can decide for themselves whether they want to provide measurements of the size and shape of their body as a condition of getting a sandwich.” The company says that Just Walk Out, however, doesn't rely on the same biometric identifiers.

Amazon tried to sell the technology to other retail chains, but didn’t get too many bites. It teamed up with Starbucks in a few locations and there was a small launch in hospitals for medical staff, but that’s about it. One sticking point? These systems require high ceilings to accommodate the cameras and sensors. Reuters also suggested that many retailers consider Amazon a competitor and disruptor, souring them on a technology partnership. Those 1,000 off-shore cashiers probably didn’t help with the sales pitch either.

Just Walk Out technology will continue to be offered in many stores in the UK. As for the US, Amazon says the removal of these systems is part of a larger effort to revamp its retail grocery arm. The company plans on bringing its Dash smart carts to retail locations, after a test at several Whole Foods and Fresh stores. These smart carts are equipped with scales and sensors to track spending in real time and, of course, allow consumers to skip the checkout.

Update, April 3, 2024, 2:10 PM ET: This story has been updated to include information provided by an Amazon rep regarding the specifics of the Just Walk Out technology.

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