With Amazon’s recent announcement of its grocery store of the future, Amazon Go, one has to question if this is the future of shopping. For a little background, the Amazon Go store is built entirely around the idea of a frictionless shopping experience. In what Amazon is calling “Just Walk Out Technology,” you scan your phone at entry, shop in the store as normal, and leave the store without the need to check out with a cashier.
Amazon layered in a lot of buzzwords in the promotional video for Amazon Go, such as computer vision, deep learning algorithms, and sensor fusion, to explain how the store works. All that fluff is great for marketing purposes, but I believe that the store largely functions thanks to RFID technology. Each product on the shelf has a unique RFID tag which an RFID gateway then reads when you exit the store (charging your account which you authorized at entry). The mobile QR code reader at the front of the store technically uses computer vision to uniquely identify a shopper upon scanning his or her device.
There’s probably a lot of technology driving the back-end of the store, such as deep learning, to optimize inventory, product placement, and the overall shopping experience. Amazon Go is built on speed, simplicity, and efficiency. I do question what happens if a person forgets to scan his or phone at entry. Though they don’t appear in the video, there have to be prominent displays reminding customers to do so. Future iterations of the store could likely do away with this requirement. Shopper identification could be facilitated through BLE beacons or even facial recognition.
Amazon Go bears some resemblance, in the principles that support its foundation, to a past “store of the future” deployment by grocery retailer Tesco in South Korea. In the case of Tesco, the retailer created a virtual supermarket that allowed customers to shop via a two-dimensional product wall adorned with QR codes. The wall itself was placed at subway stops to engage consumers during their daily commute. Scanning a particular QR code added that product to a shopper’s virtual cart. Items were then delivered once a shopper returned home from work.
While different in their executions, both examples point to a more seamless shopping experience. Amazon Go eliminates the need to wait in line and empty your cart at checkout, whereas Tesco removed the store, shopping carts, and physical products all together. Which execution is better? I think that it depends on the use case. If you’re looking for a quick grab and go, then Amazon’s store is the right fit. If you don’t need your items then and there, more akin to an online shopping experience, Tesco’s virtual supermarket is the answer. The true “store of the future” could be a hybrid between the two.