Amazon.com recently opened the gates of a brick-and-mortar grocery store in Seattle that needs no cashiers to scan products and charge customers. According to the company, shoppers only have to register with their smartphones when they enter the store to do their shopping.
Next, thousands of sensors along with computer vision and deep-learning algorithms keep track of what they place in their bags. After the shopping session is over, the customer gets charged by simply walking out the door.
The company acknowledged that the experience is so convenient that some customers may feel like they are shoplifting. Amazon said that it plans to educate customers first. Nevertheless, the Seattle store would welcome just Amazon employees during the beta testing period. The public will be able to access the high-tech venue early next year.
Shoppers, however, will have to first install Amazon Go app on their smartphones to be able to shop in there. The app will generate a virtual cart that keeps track of the items the user takes from the shelves. If the customer changes his mind, he can always put the product back on the shelf and the app will remove it from the cart.
The best part for customers is that there will be no checkout lines. The store’s system will charge their Amazon accounts once they leave.
According to the patent filings, the high-tech system uses various types of technologies including RFID to spot when a customer puts an item in his bag. The system syncs the data to the user’s smartphone. There is also a so-called “transition area” which is the last area in the store where customers can change their mind before they are charged. So, users won’t have to stop or wait in line like they do in traditional stores.
In some cases, the system may not correctly identify an item. So, according to the patent documents, the system will sift through the shopper’s shopping history to look for matches. For instance, if the system cannot tell whether the selected bottle contains ketchup or mustard it will check the history. If that client recently bought only ketchup, the computer will assume he purchased ketchup this time as well.
In an online video, the company disclosed that it relies on several technologies such as sensor fusion which uses multiple sensors to correctly detect purchased items. According to the patent filing, the store will use imagery along with sensors to accurately identify products.
“Image analysis” would come in handy to prevent potential mismatches, and so would pressure sensors located in “inventory locations.” Computer algorithms will compare the weight of an item with the weight of potentially matching products.
Although the prototype location sounds like something from a Sci-Fi movie, it is real. Experts, on the other hand, think that drawbacks may outweigh benefits. With the new system, Amazon can trim labor costs and attract larger traffic to its locations, while customers no longer have to face long checkout lines.
The major drawback, however, is that tens of thousands of cashiers and other staffers would lose their jobs. Experts agree the new feature is a job killer no matter how you look at it. The nation’s grocery stores currently employ more than 850,000 cashiers.
With the arrival of the new stores – Amazon plans to open over 2,000 – 75% of the retail workforce is expected to face unemployment.
Image Source: Amazon.com