22/03/2018 Barry Marelli

AMAZON GO: THE AI-POWERED CHECKOUT-FREE GROCERY STORE

For decades, brick and mortar stores haven’t seen any paradigm shift in how they operate. A few years back, some stores tried introducing beacons that were supposed to provide assistance to shoppers but they were painfully restricted in their functionality and raised more problems than they solved.

With the introduction of Amazon Go, an artificial intelligence powered cashier-free grocery store, the standstill shopping model is about to change. Effectively Amazon Go is a walk-in, shop, walk-out model that enhances convenience by saving shoppers time.

HOW DOES IT WORK?

Entrance – You can’t enter without a smartphone. You must have the Amazon Go app installed and decided which payment method you are going to use prior to shopping. Signing up on the app generates a QR code which is then scanned at the physical store’s entrance. After scanning, the system recognizes who you are and lets you in.

Shopping – When you pick things off the shelves, infrared cameras and sensors determine what you have picked up and add it to the cart. The system is smart enough to remove it from the shopping cart if you put any product back on the shelf.

As a result of the AI algorithms in place, Amazon Go is able to flag when a product needs to be restocked and identify where, in store, it belongs.

Exit – You walk out. Just like that. Amazon later sends you the bill and deducts the total amount from your Amazon account. No queues, no credit card swapping and no time wastage.

However, that isn’t to say that this new consumer model is not without its challenges.

The system in place (a mix of computer vision, deep learning and sensor fusion) starts to struggle as the number of people in the store increases. This was one of the reasons why Amazon Go was delayed in 2017 and despite overcoming the technical odds to some extent, the number of people in the store should not exceed 97 at any point for the systems to work properly.

The Amazon Go approach has also been criticized for the lack of direct human interaction. Conventional stores hire employees who offer personalized service and lend a helping hand if the situation demands. An employee-less store, while convenient, lacks human empathy and assistance.

Amazon Go is so far proving to be a successful experiment and this could lead to a revolution in how stores are managed in the future. Many technology pundits from highly acclaimed websites and publications were given early access to the checkout-free grocery store and all of them found it flawless, convenient and trouble free.

If the experiment works out smoothly and the signs are that is where it is heading, then Amazon plans to open up similar stores in other parts of the country. This will ultimately bring progress and convenience but will also put 3.5 million Americans in trouble who work as cashiers.

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