Amazon is set to bring its “Just Walk Out” cashierless checkout technology to Whole Foods for the first time. Two stores slated to open in 2022, in Washington, D.C. and Sherman Oaks, Calif., will pilot the tech allowing consumers to enter, shop and exit a store without having to open their wallets in the traditional payment scenario.
And in an ironic twist as the e-commerce giant aims to eliminate the checkout process in these stores, an Insider report claims Amazon is currently developing its own point-of-sale (POS) system that can handle both in-store and online payments and could be sold to third-party sellers.
But that’s not all. The report said the POS would include a portal that enable users to add Amazon checkout options and gather inventory and business analytics data, all while linking to other Amazon services, including the Amazon One palm-based identification technology, and the Flex gig-worker delivery network.
Sellers would also be able to add the POS to their own websites and stores, and enable customers to pay with their Amazon accounts. Some features would also enable BOPIS services, the report said.
“This will allow our small business (SMB) customers to unify their online and offline channel management including inventory, offer Amazon One for contactless recognition and payment, and offer a customizable loyalty program that can utilize Prime benefits,” a document reviewed by Insider said.
Amazon declined Sourcing Journal’s request for comment.
If reports of the POS launch are true, the Big Tech firm would find itself in direct competition with payments giants including Square, PayPal, Shopify and Fiserv’s First Data. Last year, the e-commerce juggernaut created an internal task force, Project Santos, in an effort to target Shopify’s small business merchants. Project Santos is reportedly leading the initiative.
As far as Amazon projects that are confirmed, the Just Walk Out technology is currently available in Amazon Go convenience stores, where the Seattle titan first piloted the technology. Additionally, it is currently available at several Amazon Fresh stores in the U.S. and the U.K., and also offered for third-party retailers in a handful of airports.
“By collaborating with Amazon to introduce Just Walk Out Shopping at these two Whole Foods Market stores, our customers will be able to shop for fresh, thoughtfully sourced products that all meet our unparalleled quality standards, receive exceptional service from our Team Members throughout their shopping trip, and save time by skipping the checkout line,” said John Mackey, Whole Foods Market co-founding CEO. “We can’t wait for customers to experience this effortless, convenient new way to shop at Whole Foods Market.”
Just Walk Out merges computer vision, sensor fusion and deep learning, using overhead cameras to track a consumer’s movement across the store, while sensors monitor which products are taken off the shelves, Amazon says.
Shoppers can opt to “Just Walk Out” by scanning a QR code in the Whole Foods Market or Amazon app, by hovering their palm over an Amazon One scanner, or by inserting a credit or debit card linked to their Amazon account. Items are charged to an Amazon account after customers leave the store.
Dilip Kumar, vice president, physical retail and technology at Amazon, wrote in a blog post that Whole Foods employees would greet shoppers at the store entrance. Additionally, store staff would be available to assist customers and offer expertise in each department.
There will be an option for those who want to shop the old-fashioned way: Self-checkout lanes will be available that take cash, cards and other types of payment.
The system integrates with Whole Foods Market’s checkout and payment processing systems to accommodate customers who want to either shop with Just Walk Out technology or via the store’s self-checkout lanes.
This isn’t the first time Amazon has tested out its own technologies in select Whole Foods locations. Earlier this year, the grocer debuted the biometric scanning Amazon One technology in eight stores, enabling shoppers to pay with their palm at checkout instead of swiping or tapping a credit card.
The Whole Foods tech implementations are the latest in Amazon’s careful, intermittent physical retail foray, which seems to stop and go only at a trial-based pace despite the e-commerce giant’s $13.7 billion purchase of the grocer in 2017.
Amazon has toyed with various iterations of physical stores over the years, whether it’s the Amazon Go concept, Amazon Fresh grocery stores, Amazon Books stores, Amazon 4-star locations or its since-shuttered pop-up kiosks. The latest word from The Wall Street Journal is that the e-comm giant is planning “several large physical retail locations in the U.S.” that would effectively serve as a modern department store or mass merchant a la Target. The stores are estimated at approximately 30,000 square feet and would expand Amazon’s reach in areas including private-label apparel, household items and electronics.
While Amazon declined to confirm or deny the news, a potential pivot into larger physical stores would create new opportunities to experiment with technologies like Just Walk Out, Amazon One or the reported POS launch.
Amazon already uses another custom-built POS system at its own physical locations, including its bookstores and Fresh grocery stores, according to the Insider report. Those solutions allow Amazon to offer Prime discounts and additional promotions at checkout.
What remains to be seen is if these trials will scale. Either way, the Amazon Go and Whole Foods pilots are likely already generating data that can help determine how far the tech titan can expand the trials across new stores. Additionally, even if a majority of shoppers don’t use the checkout function, Amazon still gets the benefit of learning more about its own customer behaviors and leveraging it across all channels.
For now, Amazon seems to be confident that its store base merits a potential retail expansion, given that it saw its first positive sales jump in five quarters thanks to returning in-store shoppers. The e-commerce behemoth boosted year-over-year physical store sales 11 percent, and 10 percent when excluding Whole Foods, which remained open as an essential retailer during the pandemic and didn’t see a major sales bump.
There is no confirmation that the Just Walk Out technology will expand into more Whole Foods stores, although Kumar played it coy, writing: “we’ll go from there.”