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Amazon tests out cashierless tech in its first full-size grocery trial

A cashierless world seems to be on its way, but it might be slower than expected

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Photo (c) SEASTOCK - Getty Images
Before you know it, you’ll be able to walk into a grocery store at any time of the day or night, buy what you want, and check out using your phone without having to interact with anyone. On Tuesday, Amazon took a calculated leap in that direction. At its fourteenth U.S. Amazon Fresh store, the company is giving cashierless technology its first real-time, big store opportunity.

The company’s cashier-free Just Walk Out technology will get quite a sizable test when it debuts on June 17. The new Amazon Fresh location in Bellevue, Washington, is 25,000 square feet -- more than twice the size of the company’s Amazon Go Grocery stores.

What shoppers can expect

Amazon has designed its Amazon Fresh stores to resemble a traditional full-service grocery store to keep customers comfortable with the experience. But new additions like smart grocery carts and Amazon Echo devices will change up the game and help shoppers navigate the store’s aisles.

The cashierless part also comes into play rather innocuously. The beta test store will utilize a collection of cameras and sensors to log what shoppers put in their carts and remove the need for checkout lines. When a customer has finished shopping, all they have to do is scan their smartphone at the store’s exit and walk out. 

The shopper’s credit card will be charged after they leave, and they can input their email address at an in-store kiosk if they want a receipt. If they use the same credit card at a Just Walk Out-enabled store in the future, a receipt will be emailed to them automatically.

The shape of things to come?

Amazon’s 2018 forecast for launching cashierless stores was hopeful -- 3,000 by 2021 -- but the pandemic took a bite out of those plans. Nonetheless, the company appears to be moving forward with thoughtful baby steps.

Dilip Kumar, Amazon’s vice president of physical retail and technology, told Reuters that Amazon had no market forecast to share, but he left it to consumers to decide just how big the cashierless, automated niche will be. 

“Do customers like standing in lines?” he asked. “This has pretty broad applicability across store sizes, across industries, because it fundamentally tackles a problem of how do you get convenience in physical locations, especially when people are hard-pressed for time.”

One possibility Amazon is trying to leverage is selling its Just Walk Out technology to others; it has already set up shop to offer that. In his comments, Kumar said Amazon could “potentially” sell the service to big-box rivals like Walmart or Target, but he didn’t speculate further.

Do consumers want cashierless and tech-based shopping?

While Kumar may think that a cashierless service is a slam dunk, others say that might not necessarily be the case. One customer engagement expert says that Amazon may be moving too fast and too soon.

“The cashierless model allows Amazon to double down on the reputation it has built for convenience – starting with Prime, then Prime Now, and of course its cashierless convenience stores,” Stefan Read, SVP Engagement Advisory, Strategy Practice Lead at Jackman, told ConsumerAffairs. “Given the incredible rise in comfort with digital and contactless shopping models through the pandemic, this is going to be very attractive for certain customers.”

However, Read said he believes customers are now looking for more human interaction and connection. That presents an opportunity for traditional grocers to zig where Amazon has zagged by doubling down on human-to-human interactions in the shopping experience. 

“Cashierless is undoubtedly the right play for Amazon given what they stand for, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to be a fit for all grocers,” Read stated.

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