Automated checkout ‘will be everywhere’ sooner rather than later

Discussion
Photo: Amazon
Mar 01, 2021

According to a survey from Piplsay, 89 percent of shoppers who have visited Amazon Go have had either an excellent (54 percent) or a good (35 percent) experience.

In other findings from the survey of over 30,000 Americans:

  • Fifty-nine percent think Amazon Go will be a threat to stores like Walmart and Kroger;
  • Fifty-four percent believe it will be a success, despite online retail’s entrenchment;
  • Fifty-seven percent will be excited to see Amazon Go or similar cashierless stores open in their neighborhood.

Of the 18 percent who don’t think such store concepts will succeed, 11 percent reported that “not everyone is tech-savvy” and seven percent think “online is the future.”

Amazon.com’s “Just Walk Out” technology leverages ceiling cameras, weight sensors on shelves and artificial intelligence to detect items shoppers pick up and put in their carts. Upon exiting the store, the shopper’s Amazon account is automatically debited.

The favorable responses came despite only 28 percent of participants indicating they had visited an Amazon Go. Of the rest, 52 percent had heard of the concept and 20 percent had not.

Amazon Go, launched in 2016, still only has 26 locations. Last year, Amazon opened its first two larger Amazon Go Grocery locations using the technology and has scheduled more to come.

Competitors have rolled out or expanded their contactless options during the pandemic due to social distancing mandates.

Price Chopper and Wegmans accelerated the roll-out of self-checkout apps that enable shoppers to scan, bag and pay from their mobile device. In January, Kroger began testing a smart cart supporting automated checkout, while Amazon last year introduced Dash Carts at Amazon Fresh stores that rely on Just Walk Out technology.

Numerous Silicon Valley start-ups, including Caper, Grabango, Standard Cognition Corp, Veeve and Zippin, have been piloting cashierless technologies over the last year. Costs associated with retrofits are believed to be the primary reason for the technology’s slow roll out.

Scott Wu, chief technology officer of Compass Digital Labs, which has been piloting cashierless checkouts in the hospitality space, recently told Bloomberg, “When the technology is mature, and the price is at a point where it’s scalable, it will be everywhere.”

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Has the pandemic likely accelerated the rollout of automated checkout technology in the years ahead? Has the technology been proven from a shopper experience standpoint?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
Braintrust
"In the high touch retail segments, we are already seeing most new POS devices/software being focused on a mobile experience."
"What does “sooner rather than later” mean? The Capex costs of an Amazon Go store are far too high to scale."
"While the Amazon Go model may not be the future, there is a desire from consumers for a contactless, convenient checkout option..."

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40 Comments on "Automated checkout ‘will be everywhere’ sooner rather than later"


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Neil Saunders
BrainTrust

Yes, automated checkouts will become more common. They save time, help save space, and reduce labor costs. The technology works, although adapting it to a full scale grocery store is more costly and adoption there may take longer.

However I don’t believe that they will completely replace registers over the medium term. A lot of shoppers like the interaction at registers and it is an integral part of the service offering. This human side can’t be forgotten in the push to automation.

Dr. Stephen Needel
BrainTrust

If the technology had been proven from a shopper experience and store profitability perspective, we would have a whole lot more than 26 stores. We don’t know yet if this is a thing or will be a thing – nobody’s shown scalability or profitability numbers yet. Sure, the pandemic is making it more interesting to try. A short-term phenomenon.

Mark Ryski
BrainTrust

The pursuit of more seamless check out experiences was always happening, but there’s no doubt that the pandemic has accelerated this. While the Amazon Go platform is likely the most advanced in terms of buy-and-go, the technology overhead and cost of deploying and maintaining this is likely well beyond the means of many retailers. That said, I have no doubt that this type of technology will continue to evolve and become more reliable and affordable.

Zel Bianco
BrainTrust

A pleasant shopping experience can be easily ruined by a bad checkout experience at the self check out. Amazon Go is good. CVS is mostly good, but Morton Williams, a supermarket chain in NYC which is a great store in every way (great selection, always fully stocked, etc.) is ruined by their horrible self checkout POS system. A shopping trip needs to check all the boxes and a bad checkout leaves you wanting to check out of going back there.

Paula Rosenblum
BrainTrust

I’m either getting old, jaundiced or am just too pragmatic.

I don’t see this technology scaling well, either due to loss prevention or maintenance costs, for many years to come. I’ve gone past being irritated by the hype around it. Of course customers like it. They don’t have to do anything. Frankly, there are other ways to improve the checkout experience that don’t hold the same costs — but this is a bright shiny object that’s much more printworthy than just “We’ll put your groceries on the belt at the checkout stand for you along with doing the bagging on the other end.”

And yes, cost is a problem with replacing most anything in stores. I don’t think this technology will pay for itself. I don’t see it.

Dr. Stephen Needel
BrainTrust

Yes you are getting older, jaundiced, and more pragmatic, Paula — but you are right, there is more to the checkout experience. Like a cashier or self-checkout assistant who knows my name saying hello, goodbye, and thank you, so it doesn’t seem like a soulless business transaction. 🙂

Ananda Chakravarty
BrainTrust

Spot on Paula. Adjacent tech, much simpler to support and less costly, may end up covering checkout “friction” in the store.

David Naumann
BrainTrust
David Naumann
Marketing Strategy Lead - Retail, Travel & Distribution, Verizon
1 year 2 months ago

The pandemic has certainly increased consumers’ interest in contactless transactions which is accelerating retailers’ interest in contactless payments, self-checkout and “Just Walk Out” technology. The cost of “Just Walk Out” technology is still too expensive for most use cases, but the cost will continue to decline as adoption grows. I think many consumers would welcome a shop and go experience as convenience is a priority for most people. The increased attention given to this trend will hopefully spur increased innovation of technologies that are more cost effective than Amazon’s “Just Walk Out” method. Maybe RFID could be the answer…

Ryan Rosche
BrainTrust

Good point. The pandemic has not accelerated this rollout directly (as the question suggests), Amazon has been working on this technology for years. The only difference is now there is more traction on contactless payment and Amazon has the technology (and the capital) to bring it to market at scale.

Steve Montgomery
BrainTrust

The pandemic accelerated many trends including frictionless checkout. Today there are many varieties of this technology with Amazon Go’s type of system being the most advanced. It requires no involvement on the part of the customer, however it is also the most expensive.

It has been deployed in small format locations but the larger the store the greater the cost. I have not seen any estimates of the cost for a supermarket but can expect it to be cost prohibitive at least for some time. The broader customer base is likely to mean that there will remain a need for the traditional cashier-based checkout for some customers and for age restricted items.

Suresh Chaganti
BrainTrust

Just Walk Out will become mainstream in grocery and big box stores. Self-service checkouts already outnumber the manned checkouts in these stores. Strip mall retailers, apparel and specialty stores, not so much. And I expect them to stay like that, considering that self-checkouts have not made their way there yet.

storewanderer
Guest
1 year 2 months ago

I don’t think so. The problem is in the big city locations where this technology will work the best, theft will become too large of an issue. In rural locations that are less busy and have less theft, I don’t think the customers are really interested in or care about this sort of thing. Rurals have been slower to adopt self checkout as well — yes it is there, but it took longer to get there and there are still many independent stores that don’t have it.

Perry Kramer
BrainTrust

I agree that some type of shopper-assisted checkout will be one of the largest customer experience changes in the next five years. The Amazon Go concept is expensive and appears to deliver a good customer experience in what is probably not a cost-effective solution in a 5,000 square foot location. It meets multiple significant challenges when looking at retailers who have locations exceeding 50,000 square feet. However the concept of having the customer scan with their phone already has significant customer acceptance. This type of solution combined with RFID and other technologies including using the phone to pay or using a self-checkout device as a payment station will all continue to grow at a significant pace. The solution will vary somewhat based on the retail segment. However, the thing that will remain common across all solutions will be the use of the consumer phone as an enabler. In the high touch retail segments, we are already seeing most new POS devices/software being focused on a mobile experience.

Bob Amster
BrainTrust

The pandemic has definitely accelerated what was going to be a de facto result anyway. The period of time in which the conversion will be accomplished may be another 10 years. There is an entire, albeit dwindling, demographic of Baby Boomers and older which will not have embraced that technology before they stop shopping for ever. Everyone else coming up behind that generation is well on its way to acceptance, but the total conversion will take a while.

Oliver Guy
BrainTrust
Oliver Guy
Global Industry Architect, Microsoft Retail
1 year 2 months ago

Given the pressure in terms of retail wages and the need to focus staff on customer service this is likely to happen very soon. Investment in enabling technology has been slow. It will be interesting to see if Amazon offers the Go concept as a service to other retailers. Using a similar approach makes sense but the investment is huge. Amazon Go has to be put in context – not all product categories are suitable – e.g. loose vegetables are not suitable and in a climate where consumers are looking for less packaging this may not always work. Self-scan is another option but it also has issues in terms of fraud – which requires special training of store staff to avoid – technology again may help in the future, but at what investment cost?

Ryan Rosche
BrainTrust

Amazon has already announced publicly that this technology is available to license from them.

Richard J. George, Ph.D.
BrainTrust

The concept makes intuitive sense. In my many research projects focusing on grocery shopping, checkout was always one of the most important and the least favorable attributes among shoppers. Think about the current approach either via a cashier or self checkout. A shopper needs to put the item into the shopping cart, stand in line at checkout, retrieve the items for scanning and bagging and then put them back into the cart!

Obviously, technology will be key. I’m always reminded of the saying, “technology is great, when it works.” However the concept would make for the biggest improvement to date for in-store shopping.

Gene Detroyer
BrainTrust

Here is what we know about technology. Tomorrow it will be faster, cheaper, work better and will be able to do things we never even imagined today. How many short years ago were there comments in these discussions on how automated technology was too expensive to install and had too many hiccups? Yet it just keeps progressing.

Like online, the more shoppers that experience any degree of automated technology the more there are who will stick with it and gravitate to it after the pandemic.

With regard to the survey, a majority of people said Amazon Go will be a threat to the likes of Walmart or Kroger. What is more likely is that Amazon will be selling their technology to the likes of Walmart or Kroger, if those retailers can’t come up with their own technology. Amazon will make boatloads more money with considerably less investment by licensing their technology around the world than opening stores across the country.

Kathleen Fischer
BrainTrust

The pandemic has definitely accelerated the desire for automated checkout technology from the standpoint of many consumers, as they prefer to keep contact and interaction with associates to a minimum. While the Amazon Go model may not be the future, there is a desire from consumers for a contactless, convenient checkout option that doesn’t involve standing in line and interacting with a cashier.

Di Di Chan
BrainTrust

Amazon and Alibaba validated the new frictionless checkout industry when they both came offline in 2017. The pandemic brought a lot more attention to the new frictionless checkout industry as part of retail stores’ future. Overall, the pandemic accelerated many different pilot projects and investment deals into this new industry. However the actual technology rollouts accelerated to help retailers respond to the pandemic are scan and go mobile checkout solutions. Reaching over 30 percent shopper adoption at top locations, scan and go mobile checkout has established proven results and attracted a lot more retailer adoption during the pandemic. Examples of top U.S. grocers accelerating their scan-and-go programs during this time include Fairway, Westside Market, Big Y, Mckeever Price Chopper, Mother’s Market, Co-Opportunity, Hy-Vee, Walmart, Sam’s Club, H-E-B, Kroger, Wegmans, Dollar General, Ahold and more.

DeAnn Campbell
BrainTrust

I see shoppers getting more comfortable with technology every day, and many shoppers actually preferring a self-checkout experience because they perceive it as faster. The down side is that shoppers still view self-checkout as an express aisle for smaller baskets. Ultimately I see checkouts moving to a blended experience, with self-checkout being the default, but stores providing more oversight and bagging assistance, and layering impulse purchasing back into the experience. This will help increase shopper comfort levels with large quantity baskets, and help get profit margins back up for retailers.

Bob Phibbs
BrainTrust

If it was so great why hasn’t Amazon fulfilled this headline from three years ago: “Amazon Will Consider Opening Up to 3,000 Cashierless Stores by 2021.” For a convenience store (which those are) it is easy, but I’m not on the schedule when I go to a grocery store and I doubt many want to do all the work themselves.

Lisa Goller
BrainTrust

Yes, the pandemic has made the ease and efficiency of touchless tech more desirable to consumers. More retailers will invest in this innovation to improve their in-store experience, as the survey results show consumers are pleased. Automated checkout could become a new standard as everything and everyone goes digital during the pandemic.

Shep Hyken
BrainTrust

The pandemic accelerated the use of many existing, but not so commonly used, technologies. Automated checkout is just one. Companies like Amazon and others who were early adopters (and sometimes innovators) of technology saw a surge in usage and need over the last year. Beyond automated checkout, there are plenty of changes that occurred during the pandemic, and a good many of those are becoming permanent.

Andrew Blatherwick
BrainTrust
The cost of this technology is still prohibitive for many retailers, however as it develops and RFID gets ever cheaper there will be opportunities for late adopters to catch up at a significantly lower cost. The question still is, will all checkouts be cashless and would that be a good thing? We know from the lockdowns during this pandemic that a lot of people are lonely and see retail as their only interaction with other people during the day. And the checkout is the most social part of their day. In Scandinavia there are now “Slow Lanes” where people can go and the checkout staff are trained to talk to and interact with the customers. There are lounge areas where people can sit and talk to other customers. Not everyone wants to be in and out of the store without talking to anyone. There is a need for a mix of options if we are to match all our customers’ expectations and needs. How you run both in parallel is an interesting problem and is… Read more »
Joe Skorupa
BrainTrust

Automated checkout technology is perfect for convenience stores, airport stores and 24/7 gas stations, so we will see this technology continue to spread in retail. New stores will be designed around Just Walk Out technology and many retail segments will give it a try. However it is at the peak of its hype cycle right now and still two to three years away from broad, ambitious roll outs by large retail chains outside of convenience — even by Amazon!

storewanderer
Guest
1 year 2 months ago
Convenience stores and 24/7 gas stations gain a significant portion of their business from sales involving alcohol and tobacco. In California it is against state law for alcohol to be rung up through a self checkout. The cashier must do the entire transaction of alcohol from start to finish (so theoretically the cashier could ring it up on a self checkout if they start the transaction, scan the alcohol, and take the payment for the transaction and put it through the self checkout…). And of course tobacco is usually not self serve to begin with. I have used self checkouts in Pilot and Maverik locations that have it. These are “card only.” If you are buying a candy bar — great, it works well. If you are buying a drink or coffee you have to go through multiple screens to find the cup you are buying. If you are doing a fuel prepay at Pilot, same thing, multiple screens. Maverik’s self checkout doesn’t even do a fuel prepay, have to go to the normal cashier… Read more »
Joe Skorupa
BrainTrust

Agreed that alcohol, tobacco, prescription drugs, CDB, cannabis-derived products and guns are not candidates for Just Walk Out technology. Never thought they would be.

storewanderer
Guest
1 year 2 months ago

So the issue is with a gas station/convenience store that does a large percentage of its sales on these items that cannot go through self checkout, a self checkout or “just walk out” model is going to have some problems.

I was actually really surprised I couldn’t do a fuel prepay on the Maverik self checkout. I rung up my drink and then messed around with the thing for a couple minutes trying to figure out how to do a prepay on fuel. Employee was cleaning something and ultimately I had to leave checkout and walk to the food prep area to get the employee’s attention then was told to pay out for my drink, then was taken to one lone regular register hidden on the side of the counter to do the fuel prepay.

Mel Kleiman
BrainTrust

It is not only the pandemic that has accelerated the rollout of automated checkout, but also the rise in the hourly wage for retail workers is having an even greater impact. If you look at net profit per employee, the only way that retailers are going to be able to pay the higher wages is through higher productivity of employees. In the case of automated checkout, that means getting the customer to do the job so you don’t have to pay employees to do it.

Ananda Chakravarty
BrainTrust

The pandemic has accelerated contactless POS more than automated checkout. The interesting thing about the survey is that so many have not experienced the Amazon Go store yet still believe it will be successful. This powers the suggestion that checkout is still a drudgery for most customers.

If anything, the pandemic has reduced the checkout traffic in stores, with less frequency to stores, shorter, faster lines and more self-checkout. I don’t believe the auto-checkout experience is ready yet, and more important, customer haven’t been able to compare it to their typical checkout experience to notice a dramatic difference. Expect only nominal change until that happens.

Brandon Rael
BrainTrust

We should fully expect that automated checkouts will become omnipresent across grocery stores, retail pharmacies, airport terminal shops, QSRs, convenience stores, and gas stations. The majority of our society is already living in a digital-first world. While we do crave and enjoy the interactions that come with a cashier-led checkout experience, convenience, and efficiency have become increasingly important in a post-pandemic world.

Going to a full just walkout automated cashier model is not a simple undertaking, and we should expect a hybrid model of cashier-led checkouts, self-checkout, and walkout technologies to emerge over the next few years.

While some folks enjoy the interesting “banter” with a Trader Joe cashier, there is an emerging portion of the population who just wants to avoid any human interaction when they are grocery shopping.

storewanderer
Guest
1 year 2 months ago
I disagree these technologies will become mainstream. Having these work in a tiny Amazon box in a big city with very limited SKUs is much different than having these work in a full size supermarket with a full mix of SKUs. These scan and shop systems are cumbersome and difficult to use in current form where the customer uses a handheld or cell phone to scan each item. A Kroger affiliate in my area (very high volume store) is lucky to get 25 customers who use it in a day. Initial projections were a decent percent of transactions would go through the system but it has been a total flop and rejected by customers. It has either the store provided handheld scanner or you can do it through their app. This store still has the equipment; some other Kroger affiliate locations actually pulled the equipment out due to theft issues when people were using it. As far as carts go that scan as you put items into the cart, anyone who has been around retail… Read more »
Ricardo Belmar
BrainTrust
While I do expect that adoption of “Just Walk Out” technologies and those like it will increase more and more over the next few years, this is really a story about where we will see it rather than how much of it we will see. This technology works well in locations that are relatively small, have fewer SKUs, and result in relatively small basket sizes. In other words, a great fit for convenience stores, airport shops, and smaller specialty stores. Another factor is foot traffic — today, these systems work better if the store is less crowded, but customers move in and out of the store quickly, resulting in a high transaction rate with fewer items per customer. Size is also a factor. If a store has very small merchandise, it’s harder for the computer vision systems to track the items, and could result in higher shrinkage rates. These factors will all improve year over year as the technology gets smarter and better over time. Initial installation costs and the risk of shrinkage (which depends… Read more »
Trevor Sumner
BrainTrust

What does “sooner rather than later” mean? The Capex costs of an Amazon Go store are far too high to scale. If the technology was ready, Standard Cognition would have more than Circle Ks and a University of Houston store. That said, their $150m funding round shows that the technology has promise with further investment. But these are massive changes to store operations that won’t be undertaken lightly. I think there will be a variety of technologies that help speed checkout, but they will take time, testing and measurement of secondary and tertiary effects before becoming mainstream. 5-10 years yes. Under 2 years, no. Is that sooner? Is that later? It’s in the eye of the beholder.

Peter Charness
BrainTrust

It’s a ways out. I don’t think anyone has yet done a full sized grocery store, with a complete range of products, and at a reasonable investment cost against that model. Seems so far that the technology can support a relatively small space with a limited product set. Like everything else, it will get cheaper and more capable … when that time will come is a tough estimate.

Kenneth Leung
BrainTrust

I think it is about context and shopping types. The same survey years ago would have predicted self checkout replacing cashiers in stores, and yet we still have cashier-driven checkouts. Having employees in the front of the store isn’t just about checkout but also customer service and information. There is a vocal segment of “zero touch” customers who treat shopping as a transactional process, but for retailers it is a decision around customer service and costs.

Sterling Hawkins
BrainTrust

There’s no question that the pandemic has accelerated the rollout of automated checkout. It has also accelerated investment in that area, driving capabilities further and faster. I don’t know if the experience is totally proven yet, but certainly on the way. It’s not of question of if, it’s a question of when….

Bindu Gupta
BrainTrust

COVID has definitely accelerated the need for contactless and seamless checkout experiences including “Just Walk Out” technology that Amazon Go is using. Now, how widely this would be adapted by other retailers depends a lot on the $ value as well the preferences of their target audience.

Karen Wong
BrainTrust

I believe automated checkouts will definitely be more common over time. Accessibility to mobile devices aside, we will always need some registers for cash and customer service. But this just makes the entire process even more expensive. How do you plug a cashierless system into POS + existing inventory systems? Cashierless systems have their own hurdles but integration to legacy systems (or otherwise upgrading ERPs) is a whole other problem.

wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"In the high touch retail segments, we are already seeing most new POS devices/software being focused on a mobile experience."
"What does “sooner rather than later” mean? The Capex costs of an Amazon Go store are far too high to scale."
"While the Amazon Go model may not be the future, there is a desire from consumers for a contactless, convenient checkout option..."

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