Amazon has taken the cashierless checkout tech that powers the company’s Go stores and shrunk it down to a smart shopping cart to for its large-format grocery store in Woodland Hills, CA. But this Dash Cart, however, raises more questions about the scalability of Amazon’s cashierless checkout technology.
The Verge first reported on Amazon’s Dash Cart, which features a ring of cameras, weight sensors and a touchscreen. The cart keeps track of everything put in there and automatically charges the customer upon leaving. There is even some Alexa integration (duh) to help with grocery lists.
The Dash Cart will debut at Amazon’s first full-sized grocery store location in Woodland Hills. But that store has gone “dark” to focus on fulfilling the record amounts of online grocery shopping happening during the pandemic and is not currently open to the public.
This raises the first question: Why debut this Dash Cart now, during the middle of a pandemic where, as noted, grocery e-commerce is experiencing record sales? Perhaps we’ll see the Dash Cart put to use in other Amazon venues like Whole Foods. Adding a fleet of Dash Carts to existing Whole Foods stores could be cheaper/easier than retrofitting them all with the cameras and sensors needed for store-wide cashierless checkout.
Debuting the Dash Cart now, when everyone’s attention is focused elsewhere, could also help hide some of the new tech’s flaws. As The Verge notes, the Dash Cart can only account for roughly two bags worth of goods, which isn’t a lot, especially at a full-sized grocery store.
UPDATE: Amazon says that they did a lot of customer research and that the cart was intentionally built to accommodate the high percentage of grocery shoppers that shop for two bags of groceries multiple times per week. This behavior seems like it might have been impacted by COVID, but presumably could return once the pandemic recedes.
The bigger question is, why does the Dash Cart exist at all? Does this mean that Amazon’s cashierless checkout tech, which works seamlessly at convenience store size, doesn’t scale up to a full-sized store very well? We’ve seen Amazon implement the technology in its larger Go Grocery store (10,400 sq. ft.), but perhaps that pushes the limits of what its system is currently capable of.
UPDATE: Amazon says that it’s technology can scale to any size store and square footage was not a consideration. The Woodland Hills store was never built around cashierless checkout.
A final question comes to mind: Why didn’t Amazon just purchase one of the existing smart cart companies like Caper or Veeve. Veeve in particular is founded by ex-Amazonians, is located near Amazon HQ, and hasn’t raised a lot of money so it could probably be picked up cheap. Plus, not for nothing, Amazon isn’t always great at hardware (see: Fire phone and its smart oven), getting some outside help might, you know, help.
Having asked all those questions, it would be silly to think Amazon doesn’t have a plan or doesn’t know what it’s doing. This is bound to fit into some larger plan, even if it’s just a stopgap as it works out the issues with scaling its cashierless checkout.