Are smart carts a smarter way to ‘Just Walk Out’?

Discussion
Source: Veeve
Sep 25, 2019
Matthew Stern

A new startup is aiming to fix some of the pain points of Just Walk Out checkout technology by thinking smaller. A company called Veeve has built a solution that lets shoppers pay without checking out, but rather than using ceiling-mounted cameras like Amazon Go, it’s building all the necessary technology into shopping carts.

Are smart carts a smarter way to ‘Just Walk Out’?
Source: Veeve

Veeve, a project of former Amazon and Google employees, brings the product recognition technology at work in the full Amazon Go store to the level of a shopping cart, reports GeekWire. A shopper grabs a Veeve cart upon entering the store and scans a QR code to be recognized by the system. An on-cart screen provides guidance as users place products into the cart and cameras automatically recognize items and add them to the bill. The screen also provides product suggestions based on items added to the physical cart and allows for online purchase of products not found in-store. For produce, the cart is capable of weighing products placed in the cart. There is also a barcode reader in case the machine vision fails.

Veeve’s smart cart addresses a few of the concerns about existing Just Walk Out stores. Since the technology works at the cart level, it can scale to larger stores, whereas Amazon Go appears limited to convenience store-sized locations. The new solution also could require fewer cameras — only enough for the fleet of smart carts, rather than enough to see and analyze every item on every shelf in a store. 

The Veeve announcement comes at a time when the Just Walk Out technology used in the Amazon Go model may be bumping up against a wall. A recent report by The Information found that the roll-out of Amazon Go stores has been going far more slowly than initially intended.

While Just Walk Out offers a radical vision of checkout streamlining, other less drastic checkout-minimizing models have demonstrated success. Sam’s Club’s Scan & Go, for instance, has proven popular. The chain recently began experimenting with a computer vision-enhanced version of the app. 

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Does technology like Veeve address enough of the concerns of Just Walk Out technology to make it a more viable alternative to Amazon Go and others? What are the chances that cart-level checkout solutions will be adopted by retailers, and will customers be comfortable using it?

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Braintrust
" I think this type of cart technology will make sense for some retail categories eventually – but there’s still more work to do before this becomes commonplace."

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12 Comments on "Are smart carts a smarter way to ‘Just Walk Out’?"


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Mark Ryski
BrainTrust

This is a far more practical solution than Amazon Go’s model for larger format grocery retailers – and I’d bet significantly less expensive to launch and maintain. That said, some of the same challenges of Just Walk Out technology remain: scan accuracy, potential for theft, relatively high cost of procuring the specialized carts and maintaining them. I think this type of cart technology will make sense for some retail categories eventually – but there’s still more work to do before this becomes commonplace and widely adopted.

Neil Saunders
BrainTrust

This seems like a good solution for big grocery stores where consumers do large shops. The technology will come with a cost attached, but if it allows retailers to eliminate the checkout process and traditional registers then it may well pay for itself. Reliability and ease of use will be key, however. Retailers also need to remember that not all customers want this remoteness. Some like using registers and talking to assistants as they check out: that’s an important aspect of customer service.

Bob Amster
BrainTrust

I would ask the other side of that question. Does a store have to enable customers to just walk out the same way as when they use a vending machine?

RICHARD HERNANDEZ
Guest

I agree with Mark. While this seems like a more viable option for a 50,000 square-foot store, what is the ROI looking at the cost of the cart (we are looking at 200+ carts per store) and the maintenance of the carts (much of the current cost of cart replacement comes from replacing carts that have walked out of the parking lot or have been used as BBQ grills, I kid you not.) The loss prevention factor does not get reduced — all the current issues (theft, etc.) would still be present if a retailer decided to go this route. I think there would be a limited amount of retailers that could use this technology but it is admirable as an alternative to the Amazon Just Walk Out tech.

Ralph Jacobson
BrainTrust

I like this. See, another great example of us figuring out how to do something that consumers may find valuable! We started all this hoping that every mom-and-pop manufacturer would include RFID tags on every product unit. When we figured out that would not happen very quickly, we came up with alternatives, this one being among the most viable, hopefully, all costs considered. Progress!

David Naumann
BrainTrust

The Veeve concept looks intriguing. I am curious how the cost compares to technology in an Amazon Go store. Cost is the BIG obstacle for Just Walk Out technology and until somebody comes up with a cost-effective solution, scan and go will be the pervasive approach in the near term.

Ryan Mathews
BrainTrust

The technology — assuming it works as advertised — sounds great, but I’m not so sure of the economics. Over 20 years ago the Superquinn stores in Ireland used a system that allowed a customer to hand scan items as they went into a cart. When the shopping was complete the scanner was returned to a cradle, a bill was generated, and the consumer moved to a pay station. I realize this isn’t, “Just Walk Out technology,” but it did have one advantage — it leveraged regular shopping carts. Like others here I am wondering what the per-cart cost looks like and how things like weather and being hit by random cars impacts their performance. But that said, I’m not familiar enough with this technology to understand the economics. From a consumer’s point of view, it sounds like an improvement over existing status quo solutions.

Gene Detroyer
BrainTrust

My gut tells me this is a better solution. But I am not sure it is the final one. There is no doubt in my mind that in 10 years or so all transactions will be cashier-less. I think what the Veeve development shows is that the technology is moving quickly and, more importantly, it is making it easier for the shopper and the retailer.

Doug Garnett
BrainTrust

Moving technology in a retail store? Huh. What could go wrong?

Fundamentally, we can’t make in-store video and kiosk installations work effectively and those don’t go over bumps or get pushed into shelving. Those problems have been attacked for years — and the costs of making tech which survives in-store is simply too high.

While on the one hand this seems smarter than wiring the “whole store” or the doorway, movement kills tech. So I’m not optimistic.

(And if you’ve read my other comments this week, I also don’t think this approach improves customer experience except for a very narrow market.)

Camille P. Schuster, PhD.
BrainTrust

I hope the retailers using these carts also provide traditional carts as an option. Having to pay attention to what I need to purchase, what is going on to avoid POP displays and other shoppers, what signs are on the shelves and floors, and what information the store’s apps are providing is quite enough, thank you. I do not want to have to pay attention to information from my shopping cart.

Handheld devices are still working out the bugs of recording items correctly and getting consumers to use them. Replacing a handheld device when software or screens need to change will be easier and less expensive than replacing a cart. Experiments are good but replacing a whole fleet of carts is premature.

Sterling Hawkins
BrainTrust

The context that these are/are not adopted under is what matters. I don’t think there’s a silver bullet tech that is the answer for everyone. The company, stores, customer base, etc. all factor in to what technology will work and be accepted. This approach will certainly be viable for some retailers. More broadly, all retailers need to rethink the checkout process as it’s ripe for disruption given tech capabilities today.

John Karolefski
BrainTrust

The technology behind this cart is interesting and impressive. But is this cart practical? I have my doubts. One, compare the cost of one cart with the cost of one typical cart in today’s supermarket. How do grocers justify the added costs? Customer convenience? Two, shoppers wheel their carts to their cars in all kinds of weather. The carts are often left in the parking lot for a store employee to collect them. Will rain and snow damage the smart carts? I would imagine so.

wpDiscuz
Braintrust
" I think this type of cart technology will make sense for some retail categories eventually – but there’s still more work to do before this becomes commonplace."

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