The Zippin store, located at 215 Fremont Street, is akin to Amazon Go both in its bodega-like size and cashierless checkout technology. Zippin is also more like Amazon than other cashierless checkout technologies on the market in the way it uses a combination of both cameras and sensors to keep track of what people purchase.
Zippin opened its retail store in August of last year, but it was more of a working lab that was only open for limited hours. While Zippin operates this retail location, the company, like so many other cashierless startups, is looking to partner with existing retailers to retrofit their stores with checkout free technology.
I spoke with Zippin Founder and CEO Krishna Motukuri last week who explained that while his mission is the same as many other startups in the space, his company’s approach is different from the other startups vying to power the cashierless retail market. “Most others only use cameras,” said Motukuri, “We use cameras and sensors to increase accuracy.” Motukuri said that the problem with a camera-only solution is that they can be blocked by people and don’t provide enough accuracy, so Zippin uses weight sensors on shelves to augment what the cameras see.
Zippin is currently working with four major retailers, but wouldn’t disclose who they are. Motukuri said that his technology can scale up to any size store, but there is typically a cost hurdle as the price is proportional to the square footage of the store. As a result, Zippin’s partners are focusing on smaller stores right now.
For its retail partners, Zippin offers the option of either using the Zippin app or incorporating the Zippin technology into the retailer’s own app to facilitate entry and payment. In either implementation, customers scan their phone going into the store and overhead cameras will keep track of their movements and work in conjunction with the shelf sensors to know what they take. Once a shopper has everything, they just leave the store and the credit card is automatically charged. (Due to recent San Francisco regulations, Zippin does accept cash as well)
In addition to the cameras and sensors, Zippin also runs a number of edge computing modules so all the image processing is done locally in-store instead of sending it to the cloud. The means that the store does not need a big internet connection to function, and can still operate if the internet goes down.
Because it operates its own store, Zippin was able to learn some interesting things about the shopping experience it created. First was just how quick shopping trips became after people visited the store a couple of times. Motukuri said that at first, people were curious and would walk around for a bit. However, subsequent trips for shoppers would drop to ten seconds including purchase. (It should be noted that the store is only 250 sq. ft., so there’s not a lot of room to wander around in the first place.) Motukuri also said that because the experience was so fast, people were making multiple trips throughout the day; sometimes people were coming two and three times in the span of five minutes.
Founded in 2014, Zippin is headquartered in San Francisco and has raised $2.7 million in seed funding so far. That’s far less than crosstown rival Standard Cognition’s $51 million and Grabango’s $18 million. However, it’s still very early days in this space. Amazon Go is spurring retailers into action, so there is plenty of room for Zippin to zip up its own customers.