New Stores Eliminate Lines with Frictionless Checkout

The increasing interest in cashier-free shopping is a direct result of the pandemic. While consumers were home ordering groceries online, tech companies were developing systems that support fast, frictionless shopping for the inevitable return to stores.

 

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Image credit: AiFi

AmazonGo, which was launched in 2018, allows Amazon customers to enter the store with a swipe of their phone. A network of cameras and sensors monitor shoppers as they select items from the shelves. Sensor fusion, deep learning, and computer vision systems track the items and tally the purchase on the AmazonGo app. The bill is charged to their credit card when the shopper leaves the store.

The success of AmazonGo stores led the company to offer its technology, called Just Walk Out, to other retailers. Airport specialty retailer Hudson Group began testing the artificial intelligence-based shopping technology in March. Hudson Nonstop, a travel convenience store that uses Just Walk Out technology, is operating at Dallas Love Field Airport and Chicago’s Midway Airport. Other airport locations will follow.

Grab and Go Shopping

Unlike the AmazonGo stores, the Just Walk Out technology doesn’t require shoppers to have an Amazon account or a specific app. Shoppers swipe or tap a credit card to enter the store, collect what they need, and leave. The technology uses computer vision, sensors, and deep learning to place items in a virtual cart. The customer’s credit card is charged automatically when they leave. 

To get a receipt, shoppers go to an in-store kiosk to enter their email address, which is tied to the credit card. Future purchases on that card are emailed automatically to the customer. Hudson hopes contactless shopping will appeal to travelers on a tight schedule and those with health concerns.

Cashierless stores allow retailers to shift employees from behind the counter to in front of it, where they can handle selling, stocking, and sanitizing. Last year, Hudson rolled out new technology to support tap-to-pay and increased self-checkout services. The company installed vending machines in 27 airports and plans to expand that concept later this year, with machines that offer brand name items, such as Maui Jim sunglasses and headphones from Beats.

child walking in front of retail kiosk

Image credit: AiFi

Going to Market

Other players in the grab-and-go retail market include Trigo, AiFi, and Zippin. Each solution combines AI-enabled cameras and sensors with deep learning and computer vision algorithms to track customer purchases and enable frictionless checkout. They anonymously monitor the movement of shoppers, but they don’t use facial recognition or collect any biometric data.

Unlike Amazon’s Just Walk Out technology, Trigo claims its EasyOut solution can be retrofitted to operate in existing stores. Trigo’s software creates a 3D model of the store enabling it to digitally map customer movement and analyze selected products. Store access is granted through a mobile app, which displays the virtual shopping list, reconciles payments, and stores receipts. Trigo’s technology is being tested in retail stores internationally and will be available to retailers on Google Cloud.

AiFi’s Oasis platform operates in a similar fashion. In addition to tracking customer purchases, Oasis, short for Orchestrated Autonomous Store Infrastructure and Services, monitors inventory and item placement to provide backend analytics to store managers. AiFi’s solution is deployed in stores in the US, Europe, and China, and the company plans to operate in more than 300 stores by the end of 2021.

In May, AiFi teamed with Verizon Wireless to open a pop-up computer vision-enabled convenience store at the Indy 500. The NanoStore operated on Verizon’s 5G Ultra Wideband network, and offered snacks, drinks, and merchandise to racing fans and staff. AiFi’s NanoStore is fully autonomous and can be located as a standalone unit or inside a commercial space.

The frictionless retail market is growing quickly. Retail purchases using smart checkout solutions will reach $387 billion by 2025, up from only $2 billion in 2020. Customers will spend an average of $30 per visit. Most transactions will be in convenience or general stores, which have fewer total products and SKU numbers. By 2025, retailers will pour more than $23 billion into AI technologies that enable efficient, frictionless shopping.

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