Cashier-Less Shopping Takes Another Stride Forward

August 23, 20182 minute read

Zippin, a new company developing technology intended to compete with Amazon Go to provide a cashier-less customer retail experience, has opened a demo store in San Francisco. Amazon Go and Zippin use different technology but the effect is the same: shoppers walk in, take what they want off the shelf, then leave — without waiting in line to check out.

Amazon Go initially tested its technology on its employees, then opened its first location in Seattle in early 2018. An article in Fortune described the Amazon Go experience at that time: “Shoppers gain entry to the Amazon Go store, located below Amazon’s offices in downtown Seattle, using a smartphone app. Then a mix of cameras, sensors and artificial intelligence keeps track of what they take off the shelves. When shoppers walk out with their purchases, the system automatically charges them. The store is otherwise modeled on a convenience store, offering takeaway food like salads and sandwiches, meal kits for home preparation and an array of beverages.”

Three months later, Adweek reported on what Amazon executives said they had learned about the system – including customers wondering if it “was really ok to just leave.”

Whether or not the founder of Zippin, the company that’s piloting its own brand of cashier-free shopping, was paying attention to Amazon Go – his background in supply chain helped him see the benefits of eliminating check-out lines. Krishna Motukuri described in Fast Company one of the moments of truth that inspired him to start the company, recalling a 2014 trip to Trader Joe’s to pick up milk. “As soon as I stepped in the store, I saw the lines, and I knew there was no way I was going to go in for one item. That got me thinking, there’s gotta be a better way.”

The story in Fast Company explains that Zippin uses a combination of overhead cameras and shelf sensors. “Shoppers check in through Zippin’s app displaying a QR code on the phone screen for a scanner at the entrance. From there, the overhead cameras follow the shopper, as they pick up items (as well as when they put items back). Seeing that person finally walk out the door, Zippin’s system tallies what they picked up and charges their online account.”

Zippin’s store is not expected to turn a profit. Fast Company says, “Zippin’s store is a prototype, meant to showcase the technology for potential clients and investors, not to turn a profit. Zippin is ultimately in the business of selling tech to other people’s stores.”

This intersection between technology and customer experience may potentially have a major impact on retail operations. A report from Juniper Research says technology-enabled checkouts account for just about $9 billion a year in the U.S. today, but they’re headed toward $78 billion by 2022. Meanwhile, in China a dozen companies are building cashier-free convenience-type stores from scratch, and nearly everyone already uses a phone-based digital wallet.