Amazon unveiled its checkout-free retail store, Amazon Go, at the start of this week. It’s still in beta testing and isn’t open to the public yet. As expected, though, it is already causing a huge stir in the retail and tech landscapes.
There isn’t any clear word yet as to how the whole thing works, but here’s what we know for now. Consumers will be able to walk in and out of Amazon Go without ever needing to go through the usual checkout process in brick-and-mortar stores. All that is needed is a companion app that will help Amazon track which items a customer is buying. Appropriate charges will then apply on the individual buyer’s account.
There is only one physical store at the moment, in Seattle where Amazon’s headquarters are located. Only their employees are using the “just walk out” store right now, but the 1,800 square feet retail hub of the future is slotted to open to the public early 2017.
The online retail giant is staying mum about the details of how their system functions as a whole. As of the moment, they are fielding queries with buzzwords – deep learning, sensor fusion, and computer vision.
This gives us the impression that there will be sensors inside the store to monitor shoppers, what they are looking at, and what they are or aren’t picking up. According to reliable sources, the technology for this does exist today. With the use of advanced artificial intelligence, machine learning, and RFID (radio frequency identification) tech, Amazon has what it takes to pull off an impressive Amazon Go.
Experts added, however, that all of the technologies need polishing to form a cohesive system. Otherwise, Amazon might make mistakes such as mischarging a customer for an item they did not buy, or failing to charge someone appropriately. There are certainly plenty of challenges, but since Amazon Go is still in beta, we will all have to wait a little longer to appease our curiosity.
An Old Patent May Shed Light
USA Today uncovered a patent filed by Amazon in 2014 that may explain just how Amazon Go works. Based on this patent, there will be loads of cameras and microphones involved. The technology is quite similar to the basics of self-driving cars.
Upon entry, customers will be tagged via the Amazon Go app. All of the cameras installed in the space will then track that individual wherever she goes inside the store. The same cameras will determine if an item is picked up and taken out, or returned to its shelf. The surveillance system will even have an ability to determine the person’s skin tone in order to help it verify whose hand is taking which item.
When the shopper exits with a product, Amazon Go will update its system by removing the purchased item from its inventory and charging the customer. The cameras are bound to capture multiple images to ensure they are updating the inventory correctly.
All of that is supplemented by microphones and sensors placed on the shelves. Amazon is most likely to integrate their impressive voice assistance technology, Alexa. The sensors on the shelves are expected to be pressure sensitive so as to know if an item was lifted out or returned.
There Are Challenges
All of these technologies employed to implement a checkout-free shopping experience do sound great on paper. But since Amazon Go isn’t open to the public yet, experts are left to wonder out loud about various challenges and how they will be addressed.
As mentioned above, inventory and charge mistakes can happen. Also, we all know that the shopping process isn’t as straightforward as it seems. Will the sensors and deep-learning AI be able to handle how most buyers think? After all, consumers often change their minds in a shop and most often, items aren’t returned to their proper shelves.
Aside from that, there is the issue of group shopping. What if friends with individual Amazon Go accounts enter a store together and decide to combine purchases in one cart? Will they be charged individually or will group buying be feasible?
The Future of Retail
The concept behind Amazon Go is definitely revolutionary, and once all of the kinks are ironed out, there is the potential to reshape the retail landscape.
With the ability to track shoppers’ behavior inside the store on an individual level, Amazon will be able to gather crucial data. This data can then be used to deliver exactly what customers want, and they can effectively upsell a variety of products too. Promotions will become more targeted as well, and conversion rates are bound to increase.
What this means to buyers, meanwhile, is more convenience. Imagine yourself not lining up at checkout counters anymore. Streamlining a busy day becomes all the more possible. When it’s time to do your grocery shopping, all you have to do is grab what you need then go. The store will learn which products you most often use, so you will be exposed to useful promotions and deals.
Overall, Amazon Go is an exciting concept and we can’t wait to finally try it out for ourselves.