Amazon opened a cashier-less store yesterday in Seattle in a bid to do away with long check out lines. Called ‘Amazon Go’, the store uses AI powered technology to charge the customers for items they have taken off the shelves.
The store requires the customers to have the Amazon Go app installed before they enter. They also need to select their payment method in advance. This then generates a QR code which is scanned at the front of the store.
According to Amazon, the technology behind this is the same that’s being used in self-driving cars: computer vision, sensor fusion and deep learning. Wall mounted cameras and sensors track every item that’s taken (or returned) off the shelf and keep track of it in a visual cart. Once the customer is done shopping, they can walk right out of the door. Within a few minutes, Amazon will then send a receipt of the bill and charge their Amazon account.
But the technology isn’t just limited to this. Amazon needs to understand when to restock items, which items to be placed in which shelf, among many other questions. It has to optimise traffic flow and get every decision spot on (if a customer picks up a block of cheese but then puts it back, the AI has to be absolutely certain not to charge the customer for it). To pull off something as ambitious and audacious as this, you need plenty of data to train the AI and machine learning models. As far as Amazon is concerned, that is not a stumbling block at all.
Amazon Go has been in beta testing for almost a year. Amazon’s employees were the volunteers during that phase and it has been well received throughout. Even though there are no cashiers inside the store, quite a few staff members are still present to help out customers and to prepare the ready-to-go food in the kitchen area.
Our take on this
Could this spell the end of most other brick and mortar stores? Will Amazon use this AI and expand it’s reach into other areas like book stores and full supermarkets? It’s a significant effort (not to mention expense) setting up stores with sensors and other equipment to monitor the customer journey. But if Amazon’s history is anything to go by, they will be planning to go global with this soon. And let’s face it, who isn’t tired of standing and waiting in long queues? It’s a welcome addition to our shopping experience and I, for one, can’t wait for Amazon to get this technology in India.