If there’s one thing shoppers don’t like, it’s waiting in line. That’s a problem Amazon hopes to solve with technology that eliminates the checkout process, launching in Canada this month.
At some food and beverage stores inside the Scotiabank Saddledome in Calgary and Scotiabank Arena in Toronto, customers can now tap a credit or debit card or payment-enabled phone to open a door, grab items from shelves and leave without paying . Your payment card is loaded instantly, without the need for a cashier or payment.
“You can get in and out of one of our stores in less than 10 seconds,” said Jon Jenkins, vice president of Just Walk Out Technologies at Amazon.
Ziad Mehio, vice president of information technology and food and beverage at Calgary Sports and Entertainment Corporation, says stadiums are an ideal starting point because customers are often put off by long wait times for snacks, which can affect sales.
“We’re trying to help reduce those lineups and create those transactions where they can get back to their seats very, very quickly and not miss anything,” he said.
SEE | A look back at Amazon’s first checkout-free store
The system has been available in the US since 2018 and can now be found at over 150 Amazon and third-party retailers. Jenkins said the technology could be applied widely, with possible expansion to supermarkets, airports and college campuses.
Not so private purchases
To make all this possible, the store’s ceilings are covered by a network of cameras and the shelves are lined with sensors. The system then uses computer vision, machine learning, and artificial intelligence to track when an item is picked up or dropped off, add the item to a virtual shopping cart, and charge the customer.
“There’s no facial recognition, definitely no facial recognition, in a Just Walk Out store,” Jenkins said. “We do not use any type of biometric data.”
However, he noted that Amazon’s system collects information about purchases and passes it to the third-party retailer: “We say, ‘Hey, store owner, here’s a cart and a credit card that just got processed in your store,’ and then they own that information.”
That information is valuable to companies, as it provides insight into product demand and consumer behavior. But for customers, the convenience of cashier-less shopping could come at a cost, said Ann Cavoukian, Ontario’s former privacy commissioner. She urged buyers to ask more questions.
“Ask for the details of what they will collect, how long they will keep it… will they share it with other unauthorized third parties without your consent?” she said. “Make them say no.”
Make a profit without a cashier
There are other startups making competitive cashierless technology, such as Trigo, Grabango, and Brysk. Aisle 24 is a cashierless convenience store chain with a slight twist (shoppers use their phones to scan and pay) that has dozens of stores across Canada.
Maxime Cohen, professor of retail and operations management at McGill University, predicts this could soon become the norm. “It’s really growing very fast and we see a huge amount of money invested in that sector,” he said.
While this technology may raise concerns that cashier positions will be eliminated, Jenkins says it doesn’t necessarily lead to job losses: “they just tend to do different things than they did before.”
Cohen helped bring a cashierless Couche-Tard store to the McGill campus so researchers could examine the impact of this type of technology. He agrees that cashiers at these stores are more likely to take on different responsibilities.
“The goal, hopefully, is to help and assist workers to become superworkers, where they can provide better quality service, be more productive and focus less on tedious and annoying tasks,” he said.
Still, whether the technology will be adopted more widely will depend on whether it is successful with consumers. People Breaking: spoke to outside Scotiabank Arena on Tuesday had mixed opinions.
“It sounds really convenient and effective, and it seems to be the way we’re going,” Stewart Moracen said.
Others, like Katerina Brezovska, dismissed concerns about revealing their personal information in favor of saving time.
“They track us through Google, Instagram and other social networks. So we already lost our privacy.”