I recently took a friend on her first Amazon Go shopping experience. She walked in, grabbed her things and walked out, as one does in Amazon’s cashierless checkout store. But she didn’t receive her receipt notification until a few minutes after we left the store.
I too have experienced this type of gap, and while I’m sure Amazon will always get its money, the bigger concern in that “dark” time is whether or not Amazon Go’s sensors and cameras accurately tallied what I took. If I don’t get a receipt until I’m back at the office and it’s wrong and they charged me too much, do I then trudge back down to the store? And at that point, how do I prove I didn’t take something?
Removing this receipt delta is one area where startup AiFi (pronounced eye-fye) thinks it has a competitive advantage in the cashierless checkout space. I spoke with Steve Gu, cofounder and CEO of the Santa Clara, CA-based company this week, who told me that the AiFi system delivers receipts in 200 milliseconds upon leaving a store. So, basically in real time.
But customers aren’t shopping at cashierless checkout stores just for faster receipts. The whole point is a more convenient buying experience, another area where AiFi might have an edge as the cashierless concept moves more into the mainstream. In addition to retrofitting existing stores with cameras and sensors to create frictionless shopping, AiFi is also building small, modular NanoStores.
These NanoStores vary in size but think of something like a shipping container converted into a convenience store. Last month, Ahold Delhaize installed and opened up a 150 sq. ft version of AiFi’s NanoStore under the Albert Heijn brand in the Netherlands. The store doesn’t even require a mobile app to enter, with customers able to use their debit or credit card to gain entrance. You can see it in action in this video:
The power of the NanoStore lies in its ability to extend a retail brand into new venues without having to do a big buildout. For example, a Safeway could open a cashierless grocery checkout pop-up store in an office building, a college campus or even an outdoor music festival. This type of semi-permanent retail is something DeepMagic has also worked on. More recently, it’s been reported that Amazon might license out its Go tech for similar type stores in cinemas and airports.
Though these NanoStores are easy to set up and run, Gu insisted that AiFi isn’t focused solely on those form factors, and that its technology scales up to larger store footprints as well.
While AiFi has been laying low — Gu said the company didn’t even announce the $11 million Series A round it closed in January of this year — it’s been busy lining up retail partners around the globe. AiFi has announced retail partnerships with the aforementioned Ahold Delhaize, Carrefour in France, Valora in Switzerland, and Żabka in Poland.
As we’ve said before, 2019 is turning into a transitional year for cashierless checkout. Startups providing the technology are maturing, and others in the space, such as Trigo, Grabango and Zippin, have all announced big retail partners this year.
With a total addressable market of, well, any retailer in the world, the cashierless checkout game is not a zero sum one. Lots of startups will get plenty of deals. The question for AiFi will be whether it gets a strategic investment from one of its retail partners like Trigo and Zippin did, and whether AiFi will be able to sign up new partners as fast as it will give you a receipt.