Last month, I wrote about Amazon’s attack on the middle of the grocery store as it installs millions of auto-replenishment buttons in our homes. As it turns out, this may only be the beginning.
Today the company announced a new grocery store concept called Amazon Go. The first store, which is currently open only to Amazon employees, utilizes what the company calls “Just Walk Out” technology to eliminate the worst part about going to the grocery store: cashiers and checkout lines.
What is Just Walk Out? According to the company’s intro video, it’s a mix of “computer vision, deep learning algorithms and sensor fusion” that combine to eliminate the need for the old-fashioned checkout. While they don’t go into more detail than that, here’s what I think they’re doing:
Computer vision: This means cameras to both identify the person and what they put in their bag. This most likely includes facial recognition technology for shopper identification, so your face is now your ID.
Sensor fusion: Likely a combination of proximity sensors for the shopper and RFID tags for the products themselves. For the RFID tagging, it’s probably not unlike those conveyor belt sushi restaurants where they can tell when you pick something up, only here you’re not sitting at a table but moving around the store.
Deep learning algorithms: the most mysterious part of ‘Just Walk Out’, but likely also the most valuable to Amazon. That’s because deep learning probably means behavior tracking, where Amazon not only learns what you buy, but what you almost buy. Stores like b8ta are experimenting with understanding how long consumers linger and interact with different products, and I would bet Amazon will use proximity sensors, cameras and sensors on the devices themselves to better understand your interests.
If you’re a consumer, the benefits are obvious. Being able to just pick up a quick meal and walk out is something anyone who has waited in a long line during lunch hour would jump on immediately. While there’s a slight creepiness factor to the tracking technology and just how much Amazon will know about you once you walk in their store, I have a feeling most consumers will shrug their shoulders at the big-brotherness of it all. After all, it’s not like they’re shying away from putting an always-listening speaker in their homes.
Bottom line, if you’re a grocery store and aren’t worried about what Amazon is doing, you should be. With Just Walk Out, they are looking to utilize IoT, AI and mobile to extend their dominance from the online and in-home commerce world to the corner grocery store.