Amazon scales its Just Walk Out tech for a full-size grocery store

Discussion
Photo: Amazon
Jun 15, 2021

Amazon.com is putting its cashierless Just Walk Out (JWO) technology to use in a new full-sized Amazon Fresh store in Bellevue, WA.

The use of the technology represents “the very first time” that it has been used in an environment where customers also have the option of checking out in the traditional manner using cashiers to ring up purchases.

Customers who want to check out without stopping at a register have three options as they enter the store. They can scan a QR code found in their Amazon app, scan their palm using Amazon One tech or insert a credit or debit card linked to their Amazon account. Any of the three will open JWO gates within the store.

Those who have questioned the utility of JWO have argued that the expense associated with its deployment — and other cost-increasing factors, such as structural challenges related to placing video cameras and other hardware in ceilings — made it unfeasible for a large store environment.

Dilip Kumar, Amazon vice president of physical retail and technology, doesn’t appear to share the concerns of critics. In a company blog, he is quoted as saying that the use of JWO in the Bellevue store “showcases the technology’s continued ability to scale and adapt to new environments and selection.”

Amazon has not specified if any modifications to the technology were necessary to make it work effectively in a store larger than its Fresh convenience format, previously known as Amazon Go.

Self-checkout technology continues to grow in importance for retailers looking to address a major pain point for shoppers and reduce costs at the same time. This hasn’t gone unnoticed by a significant number of startups creating their own solutions to offer no-stop checkout experiences for customers in stores.

Customers who have used JWO seem quite bullish on its use. Eighty-nine percent of shoppers who use the technology at an Amazon store think it’s a keeper. Fifty-four percent percent report having an excellent experience and 35 percent rated it as good, according to research from Piplsay.

Amazon believes that the addition of the technology will provide customers with another reason to shop its Fresh grocery format. The company has opened 13 locations since the concept’s launch in August of last year.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Do you think Amazon will roll out Just Walk Out technology to all its Fresh stores and perhaps even Whole Foods? How long will it be before no-stop checkout technology is widely available in U.S. retail stores?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
Braintrust
"While I have no doubt that JWO will become broadly available in the future – I think this is still years away from broad market deployment."
"JWO is the latest initiative from Amazon that reflects Bezos belief that people were inherently lazy."
"Amazon has the revenue stores to float this kind of mammoth operational investment for years without much heartburn."

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25 Comments on "Amazon scales its Just Walk Out tech for a full-size grocery store"


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Mark Ryski
BrainTrust

Eventually Amazon will likely roll out Just Walk Out technology, but the question is how long will it take? The arguments about the high cost of implementing and maintaining JWO are still valid – this is a very expensive proposition, especially at scale. However costs will come down over time as new, more affordable technology and methodologies are applied. But don’t underestimate the cost barrier. While I have no doubt that JWO will become broadly available in the future – I think this is still years away from broad market deployment.

Herb Sorensen
BrainTrust

… Is that 2 years, 3 years…?

Paula Rosenblum
BrainTrust

They just rolled out traditional SCO in Whole Foods (at least near me). Will they just burn more money on ripping and replacing it? Why…that’s like sending money into…outer space….

Richard Hernandez
BrainTrust

While I am a big fan of the technology, I see the technology still being cost prohibitive in stores which are over 100,000 square feet – A Meijer, Wegmans, or H-E-B store for example. I see this technology working at an Aldi or Lidi due to its limited amount of SKUs in the store.

Even Whole Foods, especially the larger flagship stores, would be costly due to size and number of SKUs but, as more companies (outside of Amazon) roll out their version of the technology, it may reduce the cost of implementation to the retailer.

Harley Feldman
BrainTrust

Eventually, Amazon’s JWO technology will be available at all of its Fresh stores and over a long time will roll out to its Whole Foods stores. While the convenience of the technology is undisputed, its cost and ability to capture pricing at self-checkout for all items will still present technical challenges. Consumers interest in using the technology to check out will continue to grow driving the demand for putting it in all Amazon stores upward. It will take many years to fully implement in all stores, but I don’t see Amazon backing off the challenge.

Lisa Goller
BrainTrust

Yes, Amazon stores will offer this time-saving tech to delight consumers and win grocery market share. Expect this innovation in Amazon stores over the medium term (at the latest) and over the long term for its rivals.

Gary Sankary
BrainTrust

I have no doubt that this is how people will check out of grocery stores and probably most other types of stores in the future. Kudos to Amazon for working through this. Will this iteration of the technology be what my kids use when they shop? Probably not. I don’t believe that the future versions of this tech will use video cameras for example. It’s important to remember that we’re still early on here. The good news is if Amazon is willing to throw their resources behind this, other grocers will want to get involved as well and that should drive innovation and further development of this concept.

Jennifer Bartashus
BrainTrust

Amazon will use its stores to showcase the capabilities of the technology, but the big difference from other retailers is that Amazon has the deep pockets to do so. It is easy to forget that Amazon isn’t the only player in this space. Other companies like Grabango are also running pilots with full sized grocery stores like Giant Eagle. In general, until costs for the technology come down significantly, wider adoption may be challenging. It is also hard to tell how well and consistently the technology works on full shopping carts versus grab-and-go style stores. But if consumers demand it, the industry will eventually adapt as costs allow.

Neil Saunders
BrainTrust

Eventually, I think this technology will be more common across grocery. It is convenient, saves retailers space if they need fewer registers, and saves time. However I don’t necessarily think the traditional register is doomed. There is room for both and a hybrid model is more likely to accommodate different customer needs and preferences.

Di Di Chan
BrainTrust

It will likely not be a fast rollout. Amazon publically launched the first Amazon Go store at the beginning of 2018. By March 2021, there are only 30 locations opened. Just Walk Out technology is impressive. However the best in-store experiences of the near future will likely be a hybrid of convenience and personalized services.

Oliver Guy
BrainTrust

Amazing. I wonder which existing grocers are considering using this. I would imagine some Whole Foods stores will get it to prove scale to potential customers – or perhaps a new format will appear from Amazon. I would imagine these will be commonplace within three years.

Jeff Sward
BrainTrust
I am in zero hurry to see JWO technology adopted at my local grocery store. And if it is adopted in the Whole Foods right down the street, there is zero chance that JWO will be an incentive to switch stores. When I am food shopping it is all about — the food. And the couple of minutes it takes to check out is not a big deal to me. (No, I am not a time-starved working parent.) I think it’s great that this evolution is in process, but I have to wonder if it’s the best ROI project a grocery store should invest in right now given the migration to e-commerce and what that means for space utilization inside grocery stores. Is JWO technology going to slow the shift to e-commerce for a lot of CPG product? I doubt it. So once again Amazon will lead the way and others will scramble to keep up. And as usual, kudos to Amazon, but this feels like a situation where being a fast second, if not… Read more »
Venky Ramesh
BrainTrust

I agree with my friend Mark Ryski. Let us not underestimate the cost barrier. With Amazon’s tech know-how, deep pockets, more start-ups gaining interest in this space and academia joining in, there will be tremendous progress in this space in the coming years.

Laura Davis-Taylor
BrainTrust
Laura Davis-Taylor
Founder, Branded Ground
3 months 8 days ago

I’m on this bus too. Amazon has the revenue stores to float this kind of mammoth operational investment for years without much heartburn. Traditional retailers do not. It’s another example of how big tech has hurt traditional retailers with their ability to invest in things at a negative ROI for years–and Wall Street not caring. Like many other things they’ve done, it’s an example of “subduing the enemy without fighting.”

So what should the mainstream retailers do? Make the checkout a positive experience and over-index on great customer service. With humans. Humans that smile, reduce any stress from the process and make customers feel valued. It’s not that difficult.

Jeff Weidauer
BrainTrust

I’ve watched the growth and expansion of JWO tech since its inception. My feelings about it range from elation (someone is actually addressing the age-old checkout problem) to curmudgeonly (too expensive, too complex, not for big stores).

What I find most interesting is how a retail interloper (Amazon) found a solution to a problem that supermarkets have dealt with for years. From Lucky Stores’ 3’s A Crowd campaign in the ’80s to self-checkout, lots of things have been tried, but none were really effective in solving the problem (now we just get long lines at self-checkout).

While I remain hopeful for the future of this new approach, I’m not standing on one leg while waiting for it to roll out to my local Kroger.

Joe Skorupa
BrainTrust

The costs for Just Walk Out technology will come down and then Whole Foods and other grocers will make it widely available. It’s just a matter of time and there will be no small amount of difficulty. The key is that customers love it and what customers want retailers supply. Retailers will learn to love the labor savings, data gathering, and real-time operations control. It’s another of the many signs we are seeing of the age of autonomous technology in retail kicking into high gear.

David Naumann
BrainTrust

Just Walk Out (JWO) technology will eventually be as pervasive as shelf-checkout technology. We need to manage our expectation on the timing, as self-checkout was a slow to mature technology due to costs and consumer adoption. The cost of JWO technology will likely be a bigger bottleneck than consumer adoption, but eventually it will be a customer expectation which will accelerate deployments.

Shep Hyken
BrainTrust

Why wouldn’t they? This is the future. And Amazon needs to perfect the technology as quickly as possible if they plan to offer it up to other retailers. Just as touchless payment is growing in popularity, so will no-stop checkout. While Amazon may be able to put it into its own stores, it may take several years (at least) before it becomes a popular and accepted technology.

Jlauderbach
Guest
I have used JWO at Amazon Go (soon depreciated to Fresh) and Amazon Fresh. My experience at each was less than overwhelming. The Go experience was a small convenience format that worked in a hotel lobby but not much more. The Fresh experience with the smart cart was awkward. The cart itself is small compared to a conventional grocery cart. I think it held two short-handled bags. A shopper would be hard pressed to purchase over $50 of groceries. This may have changed as it has been a year. The exit was quick, but it was not Just Walk Out. There was an associate who removed my bags and handed them to me (the cart cannot leave the store) and then processed the transaction on a handheld device. There was nothing there that would entice me to return to Fresh for shopping. It would seem difficult to justify whatever the cost of computing power, cameras and carts is. I do not see this as a huge traffic builder. I would rather use the free (I… Read more »
Patricia Vekich Waldron
Staff

JWO is the latest initiative from Amazon that reflects Bezos belief that people were inherently lazy. “What he would say is that our nature as humans is to expend as little energy as possible to get what we want or need.”

Richard J. George, Ph.D.
BrainTrust

Checkout has always been a dreaded part of the grocery shopping trip. Assuming the metrics make sense, no check out will be the #1 consumer desired attribute in grocery stores. Think about the current system, either cashier assisted or self-checkout. The customer places an item in the basket or cart, removes it for scanning, then places the item into a bag and again back into a cart, and finally pays for it. JWO eliminates most of these steps. Like the cat that tasted fresh tuna, who will no longer eat canned tuna, JWO is the customer’s fresh tuna checkout.

Ananda Chakravarty
BrainTrust

It will be a slow rollout — maybe to Fresh, doubtfully to more than a handful of Whole Foods. Amazon wants to sell shovels and picks in this case and not be the retailer with this tech, so their purpose is to showcase JWO more than broad scale deployment, although they might have to do the broad scale deployment to bring retailers on board.

The challenge with the tech is that it’s tied to a single brand or chain or store. Most shoppers buy from many different stores, and pulling out and plugging a credit card in or tapping a wireless enabled credit card is a single process replicated in ALL stores they visit. Amazon is requiring they abandon their modus operandi for just one set of stores and there’s no other competitive reason to go into these stores other than the novelty- the time/convenience saved is a few seconds. This will slow the adoption of no-checkout until there’s a noticeable point of inflection. That point is still several years out.

John Karolefski
BrainTrust

Shoppers always want to get out of the grocery store more quickly. Is this technology and others that eliminate cashiers the answer? Maybe, but at a very high cost that would be prohibitive to smaller grocers. How to speed up checkout? Open more checkout lanes and hire more cashiers. Maybe that’s too simple for the tech-loving crowd who quickly grab the next shiny solution, but it works.

Matt Krepsik
Guest
Matt Krepsik
Chief Analytics Officer, Quotient
3 months 8 days ago

Shoppers are experiential, and the growth of self-checkout technology proves this. Just Walk Out is the next iteration of this technology. Like any new product to market, there will be early adopters. The data reported here is really showing that consumers favor the innovation and convenience of Just Walk Out. I predict that we will continue to see continuous innovation and wider adoption as consumers get accustomed to the technology. Contactless checkout is just one technology that will continue to evolve as shopper preferences shift towards a fluid, hybrid mix of digital and in-store grocery experiences, and retailers would be wise to start planning today.

Melissa Minkow
BrainTrust

I think from here, the rollout will actually speed up. The pandemic has created an ideal moment for more contactless payment options, and this latest push to a larger format store signals to me that they’re ready to scale the technology.

wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"While I have no doubt that JWO will become broadly available in the future – I think this is still years away from broad market deployment."
"JWO is the latest initiative from Amazon that reflects Bezos belief that people were inherently lazy."
"Amazon has the revenue stores to float this kind of mammoth operational investment for years without much heartburn."

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