How Amazon is Amping Up the Future of Retail Through Just Walk Out Stores
How Amazon is Amping Up the Future of Retail Through Just Walk Out Stores

Amazon is quietly amping up the game in the retail industry through its partially automated new physical Just Walk Out stores - Amazon Go convenience and Amazon Go Grocery stores. The first store was opened in August 2020 and currently, there are about 30 Amazon Go stores spread across New York, Chicago, Seattle, and San Francisco with an expansion plan of opening hundreds of others soon. 

These stores are completely unmanned. To enter you need to install the Amazon Go app and scan the turnstiles installed at the entrance of these stores. At these stores technology is embedded in every part of the process hence it automatically knows what you have picked up and charges your account accordingly. It keeps an account of what you pick at the store and what you put back, it keeps a record, and the customers are charged for what they have bought. 

The stores offer a seamless shopping experience through a wide assortment of high-quality products including staples, meat, seafood, and delicious cooked food prepared fresh in-store every day. The prices are low including food available at less than $1, bananas available for 15 cents, freshly baked bread at 89 cents, and much more.

As per Dilip Kumar, Vice President of Physical Retail and Technology at Amazon, “Customers have enjoyed the effortless shopping experience enabled by our Just Walk Out technology at our Amazon Go, Amazon Go Grocery, Amazon Fresh stores in the UK, and third-party retailer stores. The feedback has been fantastic, with customers noting that skipping the checkout allows them to save time and reduce contact in stores.”

“Bringing Just Walk Out technology to a full-size grocery space with the Amazon Fresh store in Bellevue showcases the technology’s continued ability to scale and adapt to new environments and selection. I’m thrilled it’ll help even more customers enjoy an easier and faster way to shop and can’t wait to get their feedback on this latest Just Walk Out offering,” he further added.

The second concept store is the Amazon Go Grocery store known as Amazon Fresh. In these stores too shopping process is automated. So whatever item customers put in the trolley or take out, the technology captures it in real-time. When the shopping is completed, customers can walk on the green flooring leading to the exit and are automatically charged for the items bought. Amazon is aggressively opening these stores across the US with plans to eventually open 1,000s of these stores. 

A report from The Wall Street Journal suggests that in near future Amazon has plans to open around 2,000 grocery and convenience stores which can be in multiple formats.

Both the concept stores have a few things in common. Firstly, they are partially automated and secondly, there are no cashiers or registers, unlike the other physical stores. Walk in, pick what you want, and walk out. Amazon calls this concept a ‘Just Walk Out’ shopping experience for customers. No queues. Quick and easy. No confusion. Amazon has opened similar stores in the UK as well which are known as Amazon Fresh. Currently, there are around 17 stores in London offering a mix of everyday essentials, ready-to-eat meat, as well as seasonal and local favorites.

The Testing and Launch

A team of executives from Amazon constructed a 15,000 sq. ft. mock supermarket store in a rented Seattle-based warehouse for testing before presenting to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos in 2015. Before making it public in 2018, it was first opened for Amazon employees in the year 2016 for initial experience and feedback. These flagship stores were selling limited groceries, liquor, precooked food, and meat kits. The larger variant known as the Amazon Go Grocery store was launched for the public in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood on February 25, 2020, offering 5,000 items. The second grocery store was further launched in the Overlake neighborhood of Redmond, Washington in September 2020. After the successful launch, Amazon has also started offering the technology to other retailers even for a seamless shopping experience irrespective of having an Amazon account.

Technology & Implementation

These stores are embedded with the same technology which is being used in self-driving cars such as Artificial Intelligence, sensor fusion, cameras, RFID, computer vision, and deep learning. The technology automatically detects which items are picked from the shelves and which are returned hence keeping a track of items in the customer’s virtual cart. When customers leave stores after their shopping is completed, they are charged automatically through their Amazon account and sent a receipt. 

Cameras are used for keeping a track of items picked from shelves or removed from the carts. It sounds unreal until you experience it, but Amazon has already launched these stores successfully and is aggressively planning for expansion. The store concept is based on a revolutionary model relying on smartphones and geo-fencing technology for streamlining customer experience as well as supply chain and inventory management.

A patent filed by Amazon in 2015 revealed that these stores would be working through a combination of cameras, RFID readers, and sensors for identifying the shoppers and items purchased by them. It also mentions using ‘facial recognition’ and customers’ information including their purchase history, personal details such as height, weight, biometric details, etc. A patent filed by Amazon in 2015 revealed that these stores would be working through a combination of cameras, RFID readers, and sensors for identifying the shoppers and items purchased by them. It also mentions using the ‘facial recognition’ and customer’s information including their purchase history, personal details such as height, weight, biometric details, etc.

How Does It Work

To access these stores, customers need to create an Amazon account and download the free Amazon Go app on their smartphones. They can enter the stores in three ways:  Scan the QR code in their app while entering the store to get through a turnstile, use Amazon One to scan their palm, or by inserting the debit/credit card linked to their Amazon account.

Once you enter the store, start shopping, and keep your items in a basket or bag without any need to scan them. Just walk out after completing the shopping and you are done. You don’t need to do any checkout and can replace or remove items from your bag/cart anytime during the shopping. There is a navigation bar at the bottom of the app with tabs for four screens- About, More, Key, and Receipts to manage multiple processes during shopping. The Key screen has the QR code for the store’s turnstiles scan for letting customers inside the stores while the Receipt screen reflects the shopping details.

Even though Amazon has launched the Just Walk Out stores for the customers, it has kept the traditional ways of shopping open in case customers want to opt for them. They can enter the stores through designated gates and use traditional checkout lanes for paying through cash, debit, credit card, Amazon One, etc. Regardless of their choice, Amazon has deployed employees throughout the stores to assist customers to ensure they have a delightful and hassle-free shopping experience.

Customer Feedback

Some of the early feedback received by customers using the Just Walk Out concept stores is thrilling and encouraging. They felt it was quick, saves time, and reduces physical contact. There was no waiting in lines and the whole experience was high-tech and magical. They also felt the stores were colorful and the staff was friendly to ensure customers can complete their shopping without any hassle.
 

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