Tesco the latest to take on Amazon with new UK ‘just walk out’ store

The UK supermarket giant opened its first public checkout-free store in London this week.
20 October 2021

A pedestrian walks past supermarket chain Tesco’s first check-out free food store in Holborn, central London.(Photo by Tolga Akmen / AFP)

  • Wit the GetGo store, Tesco is basically taking on Amazon Go with its own version of “just walk-out” technology
  • Tesco uses weight sensors on the shelves and integrated AI to go cashierless and without a point-of-sale (POS) system
  • Tesco is the first UK retailer using the AI innovations developed by technology firm Trigo

Six months after Amazon launched its first ‘just walk out’ grocery concept store in the UK, supermarket giant Tesco also moved to adopt the autonomous store technology. Open to the public this week, the GetGo store by Tesco allows customers to pay for groceries without having to scan items or visit a till.  The move by Tesco is seen by many as a bid to compete with Amazon Go cashierless stores, which was first rolled out in the US in 2019, and have been since been established in the UK too.

The full-fledged Tesco GetGo store is located in Holborn, central London, and comes after a small trial of a similar store at Tesco head office in Welwyn Garden City, which has been selling goods to the retailer’s staff since 2019. Basically, using weight sensors in the shelves and integrated artificial intelligence (AI), GetGo stores allow people to shop for groceries and household items without having to scan products, deal with a point-of-sale (POS) system or interact with cashiers.

What makes it more interesting is how the AI system follows a shopper’s movement up and down the store aisles, making use of cameras to see what items are being picked up. To be precise, the technology builds a unique skeletal outline of each shopper without using a facial recognition system. 

In a press release, Tesco Convenience managing director Kevin Tindall said the company is constantly on the lookout for ways to make shoppers’ experiences better, with GetGo driving a “seamless checkout for customers on the go.” He added that the pilot being conducted in one store is a test drive, to see how people will embrace the new just walk-out shopping experience.

How will shopping be like in the Tesco GetGo store?

The small Tesco supermarket in central London uses cameras and weight-sensors to identify items customers are carrying on exiting the store, before charging them via the company's smartphone app.

The small Tesco supermarket in central London uses cameras and weight-sensors to identify items customers are carrying on exiting the store, before charging them via the company’s smartphone app. (Photo by Tolga Akmen / AFP)

According to Tindall, Tesco’s “leading-edge technology means that customers with the Tesco.com app will be able to check-in to our store (using a QR code), pick up the groceries they need and walk straight out again without visiting a checkout.” As for age-restricted products, there will be a section in the store specifically for it, with a separate exit where colleagues will manually check ID verification.

In short, a combination of cameras and weight-sensors will establish what customers have picked up and charged them for purchases directly through the app when they leave the store. Tesco has partnered with Trigo for the launch of this store and according to The Guardian, the AI technology was developed by two scientists who previously worked in the Israel Defence Forces. It is also the first time it has been used by a UK retailer.

Though Amazon paved the way for ’just walk out’ shopping and now all manner of retailers are experimenting with cashierless stores, not every attempt is a success story. Besides the likes of Tesco and Morrisons that have committed to trials of the technology, some experiments have gone awry, like that of  Sainsbury’s. The UK’s second-largest supermarket chain abandoned its cashierless stores after tests in early 2019, attributing the lack of readiness of its customers to be “totally till-free“.