Amazon happy with customer response to Go store but guarded about future plans
Amazon is pleased with customer response to its cashierless Amazon Go store which opened to the public in Seattle this year. Yet it isn't ready to announce much about its future plans for the unconventional concept.
One takeaway from a keynote presentation on Amazon Go at the ShopTalk conference, being held this week at the Sands Exposition Center in Las Vegas, was that Amazon is making sure the technology, which utilizes machine learning and computer vision to eliminate the need for cashiers, continues to function seamlessly. It isn't surprising given the company has spent four years developing the technology.
"We've been delighted with customer response," said Gianna Puerini, vice president of Amazon Go, who noted the company was surprised by the crowds that showed up when the store opened to the public in January. Puerini was joined on stage by Dilip Kumar, vice president of technology at Amazon Go and Amazon Books, and moderator Jeffrey Dastin, a technology correspondent for Reuters.
Puerini explained that the store, which was launched in pilot and available to only Amazon employees for 14 months before its public debut, mostly provides "grab and go" food and essentials found in grocery stores.
How it works
At Amazon Go, customers scan into the store via an app and then shop as they would any store. When done the selected items are automatically charged to a virtual cart.
Unlike other self-serve shopping experiences, Amazon Go doesn't require shoppers to individually scan each item. Rather, the app uses artificial intelligence and computer vision to identify shoppers and to track what they are buying. Cameras throughout the store read labels through machine learning. The cameras work in tandem with sensors in the store's shelves, all of which collect data about customer buying habits.
Many retail observers believe cashierless technology is the future of brick-and-mortar stores. Some believe that it could eliminate the need for self-checkout kiosks.
A complex technology
The system's simplicity belies the technological complexity that make it possible, said Kumar. To make shopping and checkout seamless the company needed a system that allowed it to know who removed what item from the shelf. This required a robust hardware and software infrastructure.
Kumar said Amazon opted to use a system tapping computer vision as opposed to other possible technologies, such as RFID. The technology chosen offered the benefit of not having to deal with labor intensive tasks like tagging SKUs, which is used in other self-service retail systems.
The computer vision is able to capture an arbitrary scene in the store and interpret what activity has taken place, Kumar explained. This required developing many algorithms, due to the large number of SKUs, the visual similarity of many of the SKUs, and the varying level of traffic in the store. He said the technology is continuously being tested to ensure that it works seamlessly.
Since the first Amazon Go store opened the chicken sandwich has been the leading seller, Puerini said. Meal kits have also been successful, she said, as has fresh fruit in the morning and local baked goods.
Customers can offer suggestions for products they would like the store to carry via the app.
Regarding customer behavior in the store, Puerini said they were surprised by how many first-time customers asked store associates if it was okay to simply leave the store. This question, he added, decreased in subsequent visits.
Despite the positive customer response so far Kumar said he couldn't predict whether cashierless technology will become widespread, noting customers would ultimately be the deciding factor.
For now at least, Amazon is not considering bringing the technology to its acquired Whole Foods stores, Puerini said.
When it comes to the impact cashierless technology may have on store labor trends, a question that has also been raised about self-service kiosks in restaurants in the past year, Puerini did not give detailed information about the number of store employees, but pointed out employees are busy restocking shelves as well as working in the store's kitchen. Puerini and Kumar declined to comment regarding inventory turns.
Topics: Assisted Selling, Automated Retail / Vending, Consumer Behavior, Customer Experience, Customer Service, eCommerce, Marketing, Mobile Retail, Omnichannel / Multichannel, Online Retailing, Payments, Point-of-Purchase / POP, POS, Self-Checkout, Store Design & Layout, Supermarkets & Grocery Stores, Technology, Top 100 Retail
Elliot Maras Elliot Maras is the editor of KioskMarketplace.com and FoodTruckOperator.com.