From concept to creation: How Just Walk Out technology is giving consumers a new reason to shop
Shopping is a highly personal experience—one that elicits different feelings among different people. For some, shopping can be an enjoyable, easy, or even therapeutic experience. Other times, shopping can put a great deal of pressure on people. In fact, sometimes shopping can increase the friction people face in their everyday lives.
But with Just Walk Out technology, Dilip Kumar flipped the shopping script.
As the former vice president of physical retail and technology at Amazon and current vice president of Amazon Web Services (AWS) Applications, Dilip Kumar has been working to simplify the shopping experience for consumers and delight customers across formats. “My day-to-day is extremely rewarding. I get to work with some of the brightest minds in retail, and we spend a lot of time inventing or iterating on products and services that reduce the friction people face in their everyday lives. It’s a good feeling to know that what we are doing has a tangible impact on people’s lives,” he says.
Amazon’s Just Walk Out technology uses the same types of technologies used in self-driving cars (computer vision, sensor fusion, and deep learning, for example) to create a seamless experience where people can walk into a store, take what they want, and get going without stopping or waiting in line to pay. According to Kumar, pulling off something like this, with technology in the background of the shopping experience, is incredibly difficult. He says, “To do this, we had to push beyond the state of the art in computer vision. We also had to build a highly available and reliable set of sensors and deal with all the challenges a distributed system of sensors operating in the store and via cloud services brings.”
With retail trends cycling each quarter, companies are under constant pressure to move quickly and constantly. But over the past several years, we’ve seen companies evolve even quicker to serve consumers in different ways. Retailers have evolved to overcome new obstacles and meet new demands, but as Kumar says, “For us, what remained the same is that consumers didn’t change their desire for offerings that save them time and money and that add convenience to their lives.”
It’s true. With many consumers in the US shopping in the physical environment, making the physical shopping experience as convenient as online shopping is paramount for retailers that want to keep up with the times. With Just Walk Out technology, Amazon “merges outstanding physical and digital innovation to offer consumers a convenient experience that gives them what they want, when they need it,” says Kumar.
When asked where he drew inspiration for Just Walk Out technology, Kumar says his number one source was customer feedback. “Before Just Walk Out technology was invented, I would see consumers who were frustrated—waiting in long lines at stores, looking at their watches, wanting to get what they needed and quickly get out.” Kumar and his team envisioned what they didn’t like in current shopping experiences and found a common theme: the checkout.
According to consumers, even the self-checkout experience needed to be faster, which led Kumar and his team to take things one step further: remove the checkout entirely. Kumar says, “The default to add, not subtract, when solving a problem can cause excesses, barriers, and frictions in several areas of life. We thought about this as we were building Just Walk Out technology, and even though we wanted to add convenience to the shopping experience, we actually did this by subtracting things like the checkout, lines, and the time spent in store.”
Creating Just Walk Out technology took some experimenting. In fact, we built, tested, and refined Just Walk Out technology in our own convenience store, Amazon Go. Since then, we’ve applied the technology in larger store formats, like at select Amazon Fresh locations and Whole Foods Market stores. Now, we offer the same technology to third-party retailers to use in their locations and to benefit their end consumers. This year alone, Kumar and our team have collaborated with companies like Hudson, WHSmith, Compass, Sodexo, and Delaware North. Over the years, these companies have opened Just Walk Out technology–facilitated stores in several busy airports and sports stadiums, some with Amazon One, a fast, contactless way for consumers to use their palm for payment. Kumar adds, “We are seeing a growing number of retailers willing to evolve their store design and utility to provide a frictionless experience for consumers, particularly in high-traffic areas.”
But scaling the technology from 1,800-square-foot stores to over-40,000-square-foot stores didn’t happen overnight. It was a process. “We’ve iterated the technology’s ability to scale and adapt to new environments and selections. This allows it to handle everything from small kiosks to convenience-size stores to full-size grocery stores, as well as third-party retailers’ unique environments in stadiums, airports, and convention centers.”
To get Just Walk Out technology to where it is today, we started with the customer experience and then worked backward on how to build the right offering and technology to optimize the store experience across environments and delight consumers.
Scaling a new and better way to shop
“Across all our businesses at Amazon, if we see an opportunity to deliver something different or better to meet a customer need, we do it,” says Kumar; and that’s exactly what Just Walk Out technology is doing with the physical retail business. “We have plans to open new stores, expand in cities and towns to serve consumers in ways that they prefer to be served.”
Although Just Walk Out technology has been lucky enough to build quickly, Kumar says that’s only one layer to its success. “It’s one thing to build quickly, but if you build in a highly iterative, team-driven way, while incorporating diversity of thought during every step of development, you’ll find that the product or service will delight more customers and consumers, no matter where they are. We take that approach to everything that we do, and it is what has kept me here for nearly 20 years.”
Learn more about the evolution of Amazon’s Just Walk Out technology and where it’s going next in this special OmniStars edition of the Omni Talk Retail Spotlight, featuring Dilip Kumar.
Interested to bring checkout-free technology to your stores? Contact us to learn how.