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San Francisco Store Could be Amazon Go’s 1st True Rival

Zippin’s checkout-free software platform combines overhead cameras and smart shelf sensors for accurate detection of what people are placing in their baskets

While it's currently in the process of expanding to such cities as Chicago and San Francisco, Amazon Go isn’t the only grocery-shopping option in the United States employing a “just walk out” model: A new concept store in San Francisco is showcasing similar grocery technology available for retailers from Zippin, a technology startup based in the city.

Zippin’s checkout-free software platform, which integrates its own software with readily available hardware, combines overhead cameras and smart shelf sensors to accurately show what shoppers are picking up or replacing on shelves. The company claims that while “early approaches” such as Amazon’s have relied solely on cameras to track purchases, which caused problems that resulted in a 10-month delay of the Amazon Go store’s public debut, Zippin's combined technologies assure the “highest level of accuracy,” working even in a crowded store.

“Consumer frustration with checkout lines is driving a tidal wave of demand among retailers and real estate owners keen to provide a frictionless retail experience,” said Zippin CEO Krishna Motukuri. “With annual sales of grocery stores, convenience stores and quick-serve restaurants totaling nearly $1.6 trillion in the U.S. alone, we believe there is a sizable market opportunity for us to pursue.”

Here’s how the technology works:

  • A shopper downloads the Zippin app, available for iOS or Android devices, and connects his preferred payment method
  • The app gives a store’s “key” or QR code, which can be scanned to gain entry to a store
  • Overhead cameras follow customers’ movements in the store, without using face recognition
  • Cameras and smart shelf sensors track when and which products are picked up or put back
  • On leaving the store, customers receive a receipt that details all charges

Zippin currently is issuing private invitations to access the concept store, with a plan to open it to the public for limited hours during the week beginning in mid-September.

While RFID is being used for a similar purpose abroad in Alibaba's Bingobox stores, and U.S. grocer Albertsons Cos. is pondering using grocery technology similar to Amazon's for its own "just walk out"-style shopping experience, Zippin appears to be the first competitor to truly go "all-in" on battling Amazon Go, according to Michael Jaszczyk, CEO of Raleigh, N.C.-based grocery technology and omnichannel solutions provider GK Software USA. But Albertsons, Walmart and others surely will follow, turning an experiment into something mainstream.

"I fully expect this trend to take hold in due time, as their momentum is only limited by retailers’ cautious approach and need to ensure a frictionless transition," Jaszczyk noted. "The technology itself is ready for the mainstream, and we’ll soon see many more mid- and top-tier retailers experimenting with the concept. While winning the PR battle is a benefit of early adoption, the ultimate reason for deployment is simplicity and convenience, so those who wait to pilot and perfect it will be the ultimate winners."

Grocers need to know when and where to employ the technology, however. Not only can it be difficult to pull off well, as Amazon Go executives shared during the 2018 Shoptalk event in March, but "just walk out" technology isn't for every type of shopper or every shopping occasion.

"For example, processes for weight-based items, age verification and capturing product numbers are challenges that must be solved," Jaszczyk observed. 

However, he stressed, once a model for excellence in this area exists that other retailers can learn from, many grocers and other retailers will quickly fall in line.

About the Author

Randy Hofbauer

Randy Hofbauer is the former digital and technology editor of Progressive Grocer. He has more than a decade of experience as a content strategist, researcher and marketer, almost all of it covering CPG retailing. His insights and work have been cited in a number of media outlets, including The New York Times, the Associated Press and the Chicago Tribune, and he was named a finalist in the Software & Information Industry Association's 2018 Emerging Leader Awards. Follow him on Twitter or connect with him on LinkedIn.

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