Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN) announced in a blog post on Wednesday that the "Just Walk Out" technology that powers its Amazon Go stores will soon debut at two Whole Foods stores. The cutting-edge system lets customers pick up items and simply walk out of the store. Once they depart, the purchases are charged to their account.
This could be the start of a whole new era for grocery stores by allowing consumers to skip the checkout line altogether and simply take their items and go. This also marks Amazon's most ambitious rollout of the technology yet.
Starting next year, Whole Foods stores in Washington, D.C. and Sherman Oaks, California will be outfitted with the Just Walk Out system.
Cutting-edge technology, years in the making
The company first debuted its groundbreaking technology at the Amazon Go store in 2017. Shoppers use the Amazon app on their smart phones to gain access to the store.
The system is powered by computer vision, a variety of sensors, and artificial intelligence algorithms to track their movements as they shop. It then detects items that are taken from the shelf and placed in a shopper's bag or basket or returned to the shelf. Once the user leaves the store, the purchased items are tallied on a digital register tape and the total is charged to their payment method on file.
Since the first location opened nearly five years ago, Amazon has worked to perfect its technology, testing it in a variety of location sizes and formats. The company has expanded beyond the initial Amazon Go stores, rolling it out in a number of Amazon Fresh locations and full-sized grocery stores.
Amazon also has a number of deals with third-party retailers, licensing the tech to privately held airport-shop operator OTG. The company announced early last year that the system would be used at the CIBO Express Market in Newark Liberty International Airport, as well as LaGuardia Airport, with other locations to come.
This marks the first time Amazon has used the technology on such a large scale, allowing shoppers to scan the app or insert a credit card associated with their accounts. Customers can also use the company's contactless palm-scanning system, which is also associated with their Amazon Prime accounts.
A $50 billion market opportunity
Skipping the checkout line is an idea whose time has come. Younger and more tech-savvy consumers are more likely to embrace the technology, which might still be intimidating to some. This changing consumer paradigm represents a large and growing opportunity for Amazon.
In 2018, the size of the automated retail market was estimated at $50 billion, according to estimates generated by Loop Ventures. If Amazon is successful at capturing even a fraction of this opportunity, the company could generate a significant new revenue stream selling or licensing this technology.
A history of innovation and disruption
This adds to a long and growing list of disruptive innovations that have come courtesy of Amazon. The company popularized the concept of cloud computing and revolutionized online retail. Let's not forget that Amazon was also among the first to debut a smart speaker powered by voice technology, introducing the world to the Echo and its digital assistant, Alexa.
Given the company's significant head start in the field of cashier-less checkout, Amazon might just have another winner on its hands.