Amazon Fresh kills “Just Walk Out” shopping tech—it never really worked


Amazon is giving up on the cashier-less “Just Walk Out” technology at its Amazon Fresh grocery stores. The Information reports that new stores will be built without computer-vision-powered surveillance technology, and “the majority” of existing stores will have the tech removed. In the early days, Amazon’s ambitions included selling Just Walk Out to other brick-and-mortar stores. The problem was that the technology never really worked.

As it says on the tin, Just Walk Out was supposed to let customers grab what they wanted from a store and just leave, skipping any kind of checkout process. Amazon wanted to track what customers took with them purely via AI-powered video surveillance; the system just took a phone scan at the door, and shoppers would be billed later via their Amazon accounts.

When the technology was announced in 2016, Amazon’s sales pitch asked, “What if we could weave the most advanced machine learning, computer vision, and AI into the very fabric of a store so you never had to wait in line?” The store was filled with 100-plus cameras and rigid item locations, all designed to try to make AI-powered computer vision checkout possible.

A May 2023 report from The Information revealed the myriad tech problems Amazon was still having with the idea six years after the initial announcement. The report said that “Amazon had more than 1,000 people in India working on Just Walk Out as of mid-2022 whose jobs included manually reviewing transactions and labeling images from videos to train Just Walk Out’s machine learning model.”

Training is part of any AI project, but it sounds like Amazon wasn’t making much progress, even after years of working on the project. “As of mid-2022, Just Walk Out required about 700 human reviews per 1,000 sales, far above an internal target of reducing the number of reviews to between 20 and 50 per 1,000 sales,” the report said.

The report said Amazon’s team “repeatedly missed goals” to cut down on human reviews, and “the reliance on backup humans explains in part why it can take hours for customers to receive receipts.”

According to The Information report, the Just Walk Out tech was deployed in 20 Amazon Go stores, 40 Amazon Fresh grocery stores, and two Whole Foods stores. It had even gotten some third-party outlets on board, including “30 stores operated by other companies in US sports stadiums, 12 airports, and one university in Arlington, Virginia,” the report said.

An Amazon Dash Cart offers a lot more feedback about what you're buying.
Enlarge / An Amazon Dash Cart offers a lot more feedback about what you’re buying.

Amazon

Amazon will be switching to a more reasonable cashier-less format: shopping carts with built-in checkout screens and scanners. Customers can leisurely scan items as they throw them in the “Amazon Dash Cart,” and the screen will let them instantly see a running total of their purchases. The cart scanners also mean that Amazon no longer needs a small army of store employees to constantly tidy up the shelves so the camera-vision system can work.

Amazon sent along a statement on the news:

We’ve invested a lot of time redesigning a number of our Amazon Fresh stores over the last year, offering a better overall shopping experience with more value, convenience, and selection—and so far we’ve seen positive results, with higher customer shopping satisfaction scores and increased purchasing. We’ve also heard from customers that while they enjoyed the benefit of skipping the checkout line with Just Walk Out, they also wanted the ability to easily find nearby products and deals, view their receipt as they shop, and know how much money they saved while shopping throughout the store. To deliver even more convenience to our customers, we’re rolling out Amazon Dash Cart, our smart-shopping carts, which allows customers all these benefits including skipping the checkout line.

This article was updated to include Amazon’s statement and to reflect that it’s the Amazon “Fresh” stores that are discarding the Just Walk Out tech.

Listing image by Amazon



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