Amazon offers no-checkout technology to other retailers

A lone employee works in a grocery store.
Enlarge / An Amazon Go store in Seattle in February 2020.

Amazon has made a splash in recent years with Amazon Go, a series of convenience stores—and more recently a full-fledged grocery store—in Seattle, New York, Chicago, and San Francisco. Now the company is offering to license the technology to other retailers.

A new website explains how Amazon’s Just Walk Out technology works.

“We built Just Walk Out technology leveraging the same types of technologies used in self-driving cars: computer vision, sensor fusion, and deep learning,” Amazon’s FAQ says. “We provide all the necessary technologies to enable checkout-free shopping in a retailer’s store and offer retailers 24/7 support via phone and email.”

Amazon Go relies on an Amazon-branded app to help customers check into the store and then view their purchases after a shopping trip. In contrast, third-party Just Walk Out stores will be based on a credit card swipe. If customers want a receipt, they can enter an email address—which Amazon will remember for future visits.

And while Just Walk Out technology has the potential to reduce the number of people needed to staff a store, Amazon says it won’t eliminate retail workers. Just Walk Out stores still need people to answer customer questions, restock shelves, and check ID for customers who want to buy alcohol. As Amazon puts it, retail workers will be “shifted to focus on more valuable activities.”

Amazon says it can take “as little as a few weeks” to install Just Walk Out technology in a retail location. The company says it will “only collect the data needed to provide shoppers with an accurate receipt.”

The decision to license Just Walk Out to other retailers is consistent with Amazon’s long-standing policy of licensing its core infrastructure widely. For example, Amazon was one of the first to realize, around 2006, that other companies might be interested in licensing Amazon’s Web-hosting infrastructure. The result, Amazon Web Services, has become one of Amazon’s most profitable product lines.

Amazon may be making a similar play here. Even with Amazon’s resources, it might be challenging for Amazon to open hundreds—to say nothing of thousands—of Amazon Go stores in the next few years. But if the concept catches on, it’s easy to imagine thousands of independent retailers adopting Amazon’s Just Walk Out technology—making it a foundation of the 21st-century retail economy in much the same way AWS has become a foundational technology for the modern Web.

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