Amazon makes its cashierless tech available for retailers

Amazon's "Just Walk Out" technology could revolutionalize the entire retail landscape.
11 March 2020

Enter the new age of grocery shopping. Source: Shutterstock

Amazon announced on Monday that it would be selling the cashierless store technology that power its Go stores to other third-party retailers.

The move will provide the e-commerce giant with another source of revenue asa retail tech provider, and could lay the groundwork for more retailers to eliminate checkouts.

In its own stores, customers pick up items from store shelves, which are then automatically added virtual carts and charged to the user’s Amazon Go app upon leaving the store, all without interacting with a cashier.

Instead of purchases charged to an app, other merchants using Amazon’s ‘Just Walk Out’ technology will rely on credit card payment methods.

The e-commerce leader’s licensing of the tech could present a leap forward in the development of retail automation. NBK retail consultancy founder Natalie Berg told BBC that the move had been long-expected as it opens up a profitable venture for the retail behemoth. 

“What Amazon does very well is cut out friction and of course, the biggest source of friction in the grocery stores and supermarkets is the checkout,” she said.

However, Berg noted that other retailers directly competing with Amazon will make opportunities for other cashierless technology vendors, “because you’re never going to see Walmart implement Amazon’s checkout-free tech.”

Amazon Go stores have already set a disruptive benchmark for next-gen shopping experiences, and by making the technology available in the market, has set the motion for other merchants to follow suit.

The technology will be attractive for retailers who lack the in-house tech clout of Amazon, but are keen to explore how automation can further optimise their day-to-day operations, saving costs from man-hours and improving customer experience.

Of course, that in itself will present concerns round the displacement of human employees. Automation threatens to displace the cashier roles that comprise 3.5 million jobs today in the US. 

Unsurprisingly, Amazon has downplayed the impact its tech could have on displacement of human labor, emphasizing that it will instead lead to the repurposing of retail roles.

In its website, the retail giant emphasized that store associates will take on more customer-facing tasks such as “to greet and answer shoppers’ questions, stock the shelves, check IDs for the purchasing of certain goods, and more.”

For brick-and-mortar stores offering online order and delivery services, the technology could provide store associates more opportunities to scale up business operations: “The skills required across the retail sector are going to evolve massively over the next decade,” Berg remarked. 

The move, while merely an availability of Amazon’s tech to a wider audience, seems like a milestone in the evolution of retail automation, the adoption of which will contribute to a market value set to double from US$11.24 billion in 2018 to US$23.58 billion by 2026. 

Amazon’s newly launched Seattle store is an example of the technology’s active deployment, although scaling this up to larger supermarkets with a wider variety of products – which attract different customer buying habits – could be a test of the technology’s versatility.