How the ‘Just walk out’ tech works

It’s now been a few years since Amazon first opened up one of its physical Amazon Go convenience stores, and there are now locations all over the US and in London.

While Amazon has been scaling back some of its physical pop-ups, the company seems to be all in on Go and Fresh stores, so we can expect to see more and more arriving around the world.

All have one thing in common – unlike most shops, there are no registers or cashiers. You walk in, pick out what you want, and walk out. Amazon calls it a ‘just walk out’ shopping experience.

Here’s everything you need to know, including how it works.

What is a ‘just walk out’ store?

Amazon described the original Amazon Go store as “a new kind of store with no checkout required”. The first Amazon Go in Seattle was basically a small convenience store with roughly 1,800 square feet of retail space and it’s this small format that is replicated elsewhere.

When you shop at one of these stores, you never have to wait in line. The store works with an Amazon Go app for iOS or Android: You enter, take the products you want and, thanks to the app, just leave again. The app is linked to your Amazon account for billing.

There are two types of Amazon Go stores in the US:

  • Amazon Go: Serves breakfast, lunch, and all sorts of snacks that are ready
  • Amazon Go Grocery: Produce, ready-made dinners, and household essentials

And there are similar stores in London, but in the UK they are called Amazon Fresh.

These stores work by using the same types of technologies found in self-driving cars, such as computer vision, sensor fusion, and deep learning.

This technology can detect when products are taken or returned to the shelves and keep track of them in your virtual cart. When you leave the store with your goods, your Amazon account is charged and you are sent a receipt.

Where can you find these stores?

There are now over 25 Amazon Go stores in the US including the larger Amazon Go Grocery (one of which is a smaller concession in a Macy’s).

Outside of the US, Amazon operates 19 Fresh stores across London, you can find your nearest store here. UK Amazon Fresh stores offer a mix of everyday essentials, local favourites and seasonal items. Some stores also offer ready-to-eat meals.

Various reports suggest that up to 30 stores could be opened in the UK and rumours suggest the launch partner is Morrisons – certainly the Amazon Fresh store is carrying a large offering of Amazon-branded grocery items which may have come from that source. Amazon and Morrisons already work together on the Amazon Fresh online delivery service.

According to a report from The Wall Street Journal, Amazon hopes to one day open 2,000 grocery and convenience stores. These stores might even have multiple formats.

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How does it work?

To get started, you need an Amazon account, a supported smartphone, and the free app. You scan the app as you enter the store to get through a turnstile. You then put away your phone and began shopping – picking up items, and putting them in a basket or in bags (without needing to scan each item). You can just walk out when you’re finished.

You don’t need to check out and you can replace items at any time.

The app has a navigation bar at the bottom with tabs for four screens: Key, Receipts, About, and More. The Key screen seems to bring up the QR code that the store’s turnstiles scan to let you in, while the Receipt screen shows what you bought after you’ve left.

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‘Just Walk Out’ tech

Amazon is using a combination of artificial intelligence, computer vision, and data pulled from multiple sensors to ensure customers are only charged for the stuff they pick up. Cameras are used to track items as they’re taken from shelves.

A patent application filed by Amazon in early 2015 first revealed details about the technology. The patent described a store that would work using a system of cameras, sensors, and/or RFID readers to identify shoppers and their items.

There is also a mention of “facial recognition” and user information, which may include images of the user, details about the user like height and weight, user biometrics, a username and password, even user purchase history.

We’re not entirely sure if this patent application precisely describes the final iteration of Just Walk Out technology. However, it is a camera-tracking system and it must also use some kind of AI to track you through the store.

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