Cashierless and cash-free Amazon Go stores are the future of retail

Amazon paved the way for ’just walk out’ shopping last year and now all manner of retailers are experimenting with cashierless stores.
9 September 2021

Could Amazon Go cashierless store concept be the future of retail? (Photo by David Ryder / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / Getty Images via AFP)

  • Amazon Go just opened its sixth ‘Fresh’ convenience store in the UK
  • Since Amazon Go, the likes of Tesco and Walmart have committed to trials of the cash-free technology
  • On top of using the tech in its own Go, Fresh stores and Whole Foods, Amazon signed a deal last year to license its technology to third-party retailers.

In January of 2018, Inc. opened its first self-service Amazon Go convenience store in Seattle, Washington. Armed only with a smartphone app tied to a credit card, a customer could enter the store, select merchandise from the aisles and refrigeration cases, and just walk out — no lines, no waiting, no cashier. But it wasn’t until this June that Amazon’s ‘Just Walk Out’ technology was made available at a full-size Amazon Fresh grocery store.

Since launching its first store, Amazon has deployed “Just Walk Out” in other stores in the US and the UK, and it’s made the cashierless system available to third-party retailers. Amazon opened its first full-sized Amazon Go grocery store in 2020 in Seattle. Now, Amazon’s cashierless ‘Just Walk Out’ tech will also be arriving in two other Whole Foods locations in California, the company announced.

A can of Coke, chocolate bar, or chicken sandwich placed in a shopper’s bag can be identified, accounted for, and charged to a payment card, all facilitated by computer vision, deep learning, and sensor-based information technologies — they form the core of what Amazon’s ‘Just Walk Out’ technology is all about. And it’s revolutionizing brick-and-mortar retail, one store at a time.

On top of using the tech in its own Go, Fresh stores and Whole Foods, Amazon signed a deal last year to license its technology to third-party retailers. Shoppers can also opt to use the tech when they enter the store by scanning an app, inserting a debit card linked to their Amazon account, or by placing their palm over the Amazon One palm-scanning system.

Amazon Go: Disrupting the evergreen grocery store 

Retailing experts describe Amazon Go as a potentially huge disruption, similar to how Uber disrupted the taxi industry by removing the friction and creating a better experience. It didn’t kill off all taxi companies, but it captured a big portion of the market.

While automation has played a role in shopping for some time, it has been e-commerce that has been the sector that were altering customer shopping behaviors, transforming the global retail landscape from brick and mortar to omnichannel. Grocers on the other hand, have remained largely immune to digital disruption—until recently.

When it comes to Amazon, the behemoth of a company has not only defined the world of e-commerce but become a leader in brick-and-mortar shopping. In terms of retail, grocery — fresh from a pandemic-fuelled shakeup and ripe for disruption — is where Amazon’s laser focus is and will be over the coming years. 

Since Amazon introduced its first cashierless retail store concept in 2018, other retailers have since followed suit. Walmart and Walmart-owned Sam’s Club and supermarket chain Giant Eagle tested AI technology similar to Amazon Go, among others. And several companies sell cashierless tech to retailers, including Standard Cognition, Zippin, Grabango, AiFi and Trigo, to name a handful.

Days after Amazon Go opened its Seattle store years ago, startup AiFi announced that it would soon provide technology similar to Amazon Go’s Just Walk Out. AiFi claimed it can support tracking up to 500 people, and tens of thousands of SKU item numbers, all housed within tens of thousands of square feet. Unlike Amazon Go, the AiFi system was to be made available as a subscription service to both mom-and-pop stores and big chains alike. 

Even prolific store-starter 7-Eleven announced in 2020 its intention to test the “cashierless” store concept while a handful of startups are already working with other retailers to implement autonomous checkout services. Although some in the grocery industry contend that Amazon’s “Just Walk Out” system isn’t well-suited for grocery chains with pre-existing, large storefronts, the Whole Foods trials could help Amazon figure out how to overcome that issue. 

Inevitably, grocery retail is entering a new era, shoved into submission by the pandemic but shaped by innovators like Amazon — which is primed to benefit. The company’s persistent experimentation in the quest to provide consumers with novel, dynamic and convenient shopping solutions is already having big ramifications on a sector that has been a sleeping giant for something like 50 years. 

The developments for now not only offer grocery shoppers the opportunity to minimize contact while shopping — desirable during a pandemic and even once it fades — but additional convenience too. It will be interesting to see how many major grocery retailers end up rolling out Amazon-like technology in their own stores.