How do Contactless Stores work and what is ‘Just Walk Out’ Technology?

The way we shop has undergone huge change since the invention of the internet. You don’t have to look far to find a news story about highstreet shops closing down due to a lack of customer footfall. While business taxes for property owners play a large part in how much revenue certain retailers make, (compared to those who operate solely online) the convenience of ordering goods and services from the comfort of our own homes or desks has also contributed significantly to why many of us now prefer to shop online.  

Combine this with the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, where citizens have been asked to reduce as much physical contact as possible with others, highstreet shops and supermarkets now also face their toughest challenge yet – keep customers coming through their doors, but also ensure they are as protected as possible. 

How is in-store shopping changing?

It is for these reasons that retailers and supermarkets alike are doing their best to keep shopping in store exciting for customers. Various experiments are underway that demonstrate this drive. Cosmetics brand L’oreal, for example, has introduced makeup that customers can try on using augmented reality in its stores in Shanghai, Wuhan, and Changsha boutiques and shoe retailer, Vans, has designed its London store to include a skateboarding park, so its target market can socialise and shop at the same time.

So, what are contactless stores?

Contactless stores are not only a novelty to mix up how we shop but they were specifically invented to reduce the amount of time spent queuing after you’ve done your shopping and are ready to pay – a key pain point in the in store shopping experience. The concept works by allowing customers to take the products they want to purchase from the shelves and leave the store directly, automatically charging the total amount to a credit or debit card later without needing to visit the checkout. 

The technology, which uses computer vision, sensor fusion, and machine learning, was first trialled in 2016 by Amazon employees at an Amazon Go store in Seattle in the US. Since then, the cashierless store technology, better known as ‘Just Walk Out’ technology has been sold to a variety of other retailers including Sainsbury’s and Starbucks, after having proven to be reliable and accurate. However, there are also other retailers introducing their own versions of the technology too. Tesco, for example, calls its ‘Just Walk Out’ technology GetGo.

How does ‘Just Walk Out’ technology work in practice?

When entering a contactless store customers start by scanning a QR code on their mobile phone. This is either generated by Amazon in an Amazon Go store or by a third party elsewhere. Sainsbury’s, for instance, uses its own application named SmartShop. 

Once inside the store, customers can put away their phone and shop as they please – taking items off the shelves and putting them in their basket as normal. The Just Walk Out system detects when products are taken from or returned to the shelves using weight sensors on the aisles and cameras to track you in-store. The AI system works by building a unique skeleton outline of each person rather than using facial recognition. This is how it keeps track of what you’ve picked up – logging your goods in a virtual shopping cart on your smartphone. 

When a customer has finished their shopping they leave the store by scanning their QR code again at the automatic gates and payment is automatically deducted –  with the receipt sent to the customer shortly after. 

With more and more big brands announcing they will be opening contactless stores in the coming years, it is likely that soon you’ll be able to try one out for yourself and tell us about your experience in the comments section below!

If you have any questions or other technology queries, please tweet us at @techtroublesho1. And, if you enjoyed this post, why not read about other Amazon technologies including Palm Payments: How do they work and why are they controversial?

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