Amazon.com confirmed today that it's launching a new business line selling the technology behind its cashier-less convenience stores to other retailers. In addition, Amazon told Reuters it has signed “several” deals with customers it would not name. The technology, which Amazon calls Just Walk Out, enables shoppers to enter a store, grab merchandise, and go. Here's how it works: In Just Walk Out-enabled stores, shoppers will enter the store using a credit card. Then, the Just Walk Out technology, which includes ceiling cameras and shelf weight sensors, will detect what products shoppers take from or return to shelves and keeps track of them in a virtual cart. When done shopping, they can walk out and their credit card will be charged for the items in their virtual cart. If shoppers need a receipt, they can visit a kiosk in-store and enter their email address. If they use the same credit card to enter the same or any other Just Walk Out-enabled store in the future, a receipt will be emailed to them automatically.
Just Walk Out works differently than the technology Amazon has been using in its Amazon Go stores since 2018. In those stores, shoppers download the Amazon Go app, beep themselves into the store using a QR code, then 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.
Total Retail's Take: The future is now. While many consumers today may think of the Amazon Go-style of checkout-free, cashless supermarkets as a novelty shopping experience, Amazon is betting that this type of store will become mainstream. And it may be right. The market for retail without cashiers could grow to $50 billion, U.S. venture firm Loup Ventures has estimated. Instead of keeping the technology just 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. However, there's still no guarantee that consumers will jump on the concept. For starters, one issue that may arise is who owns the customer data, Amazon or the partner retailer? Amazon says on its site that 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, isn't clear. 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." Also, there's the irony that Amazon may end up competing with itself. Media reports say that its focus for Just Walk Out technology right now is smaller convenience stores, such as airport shops and arena kiosks, rather than major retailers such as Walmart and Target, however, that could change in the future.