Zippin and a-zappin in-store queues

Automated shopping technology is continuing its hot streak as bricks and mortar retailers step up efforts to compete with e-commerce ventures.
29 August 2018

Retailers are having to introduce innovative experiences with technology. Source: Shutterstock

The US startup Zippin is launching a concept store in San Francisco’s SOMA neighborhood to showcase its tech. It is offering access to this through private invitation, with the shop open for limited hours during the week beginning in mid-September.

The company’s patent-pending approach uses AI, machine learning, and visual cognition technology, to banish checkout lines and self-scanners. Consumers download the Zippin app (available on iTunes and Google Play) and connect their preferred payment method. The app contains their store “key” or QR code which can be scanned to gain entry to a shop.

Overhead cameras follow customers’ movements as they move around the store, without using face recognition. Cameras and smart shelf sensors track when and which products are picked up or put back. On leaving the store, customers receive a receipt detailing their charges.

Zippin, whose founders are ex-Amazon, SRI, VMware executives and researchers, has pulled in nearly US$3 million in seed funding from Maven Ventures and Core Venture Group. It lines up alongside the likes of Trigo Vision and Standard Cognition in the anti-Amazon Go push for cashless, employee free stores.

Trigo Vision recently bagged US$7 million in a seed funding round led by Hetz Ventures and Vertex Ventures Israel. Whilst Standard Cognition has announced the opening of an office in Tokyo, Japan and signed Paltac Corporation, a wholesaler of FMCG products and OTC drugs, as its first customer in the country.

Paltac is also the first customer that Standard has publicly named, although it says that it is installing systems for multiple retailers around the world, including in the US.

In July, meanwhile, Standard Cognition raised an additional US$5.5 million from CRV, bringing its total funding to date to US$11.2 million. The company says that its solution differs from the headline-grabbing Amazon Go in several key ways:

  • It is available to any retailer;
  • It has a much lighter footprint with far fewer sensors and cameras, which leads to faster installs;
  • It doesn’t require shoppers to use an app – there is a guest checkout feature.

Whilst the onslaught of cool new tech and lack of human interaction might put some shoppers off (something that TechHQ explored in this article last week), the threat posed by Amazon and other pureplays to bricks and mortar retailers cannot be ignored.

Another issue is the rising cost of labor and real estate. Coupled with the e-commerce onslaught, retailers can’t just raise prices to make up the difference. And so their margins suffer. Standard Cognition says that it helps level the playing field.

Jeff Hsu, Intelligence and Logistics Manager, Standard Cognition, argues that retailers love the concept of autonomous checkout. No one likes to wait in line, after all. Scan-and-go type approaches haven’t really taken off, as they are prone to error and enable theft, and most customers hate using them. Standard’s solution is far more user-friendly – they just shop and walk out – and safer for the retailer, Hsu claims.

Despite the popularity of shopping online, bricks and mortar retail still accounts for more than 90 percent of all purchases made in the US.

Zippin, Trigo Vision and Standard Cognition have some way to go before achieving mainstream success, but they undoubtedly provide an intriguing glimpse into the future.