Amazon.com Inc. this week will open the first full-size Amazon Fresh grocery store equipped with its “Just Walk Out” technology, which uses sensors and machine learning to let consumers shop without waiting in a checkout line.
The online retail giant said today that the store is scheduled to open to shoppers on Thursday. Located in Bellevue, Washington, it will be accessible to the public from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. PDT following the store’s opening.
Amazon has been experimenting with cashierless checkout technology for years. It first implemented the concept in its smaller Go-branded stores, which for the most part range in size from 1,200 to 2,300 square feet. The Amazon Fresh location opening in Bellevue this week is reportedly more than 10 times larger, with a floor space of 25,000 square feet, which shows that Amazon’s Just Walk Out technology is now scalable enough to power fairly extensive retail spaces.
Just Walk Out uses sensors embedded in a store’s ceiling and other locations to identify when customers add item to their shopping carts. The artificial intelligence algorithms that power the sensors can also detect when goods are added to the carts by guests who entered the store together with the customer. If a shopper later returns an item to the shelf, the algorithms detect the change and adjust their bill accordingly.
At the end of their shopping trip, users can walk out without waiting in a checking line by scanning a QR code in their Amazon app or a payment card tied to their Amazon account. The new Amazon Fresh location also offers a third checkout method: Amazon One, a palm-scanning payment system that the online retail debuted last year. After an initial setup that takes about a minute, the system allows users to make purchases by holding their hand mid-air for about a second above a scanner on their way out of the store.
“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,” said Dilip Kumar, Amazon’s vice president of physical retail and technology.
The milestone is particularly significant because Amazon last year started selling Just Walk Out to other retailers as a commercial offering. By demonstrating that the technology can run reliably in large retail spaces, the new Amazon Fresh location in Bellevue could function as a kind of showcase and thereby help the company present a more compelling value proposition to potential enterprise customers.
The operational lessons that Amazon will gain over time from the store should be valuable as well. The company’s engineers will have an opportunity to collect data on how well Just Walk Out processes transactions and, over time, find opportunities to improve it.
Just Walk Out is only one component of Amazon’s retail technology plans. Last June, the company debuted a smart shopping cart (pictured) developed by its engineers that likewise enables customers to buy groceries without waiting in a checkout line, albeit using different technologies. The cart detects purchases using its own built-in scale and sensors, an approach that removes the need to install sensors in a store’s ceiling and thereby potentially simplifies deployment.
Amazon faces competition from a number of startups that offer their own hardware and software for building cashierless stores. One way the company may seek to differentiate its technology is by introducing integrations between Just Walk Out and cloud services from Amazon Web Services Inc., its cloud computing unit, to help retailers with back-office tasks such as inventory tracking.
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