Amazon's cashier-free store relies on a sensor-enabled inventory management system

UpdateThe article previously described Amazon Go stores as using RFID-enabled tags, but Amazon says RFID is not implemented in the store. The headline, portions of the third bullet and the last paragraph have been modified to reflect the store's use of "sensors," accordingly.  

Dive Brief:

  • Amazon Go, a store devoid of cashiers and check out lines, opened its first beta store in Seattle, Retail Dive reported Monday.
  • The technology involved allows shoppers to activate an app, select preferred items, then pass through a scanner area that reads purchases, tallies the amount spent, and ultimately sends the bill directly to the shopper's Amazon card.
  • While Amazon has not offered a full technological tour of the facility, a patent filing earlier this year shows the company may be using either imaging technology, weight-sensing technology or RFID tags to automatically track the exit of materials from a shelf and sync to a handheld device, GeekWire reports.

Dive Insight:

The store concept is revolutionary for various reasons, not the least of which includes the application of industrial technology for consumer ends.

The patent referenced by GeekWire is "describes a system for automatically transitioning items from a materials handling facility without delaying a user as they exit the materials handling facility," according to the public filing. The filing describes the technology is meant for use both by physical stores and fulfillment centers — as well as libraries, museums and rental centers — aiming to ease the replenishment process through real-time tracking. 

For the supply chain manager, the technology promises to almost completely remove the need for inventory checks while the retailer can know when an item is out-of-stock. Theoretically, if there are no more bananas on the shelf, a retail employee could immediately be informed and replenish the item, reducing losses from potential lack of sales. Similar processes could help ease picking at fulfillment centers, too.

Yet, the technology's implementation is a lot harder than it sounds. The cost of full-store implementation is likely to be high, especially when the cost of placing a sensor on every shelf is factored in. In addition, customers must have the application required for the technology to work. However, the tagging of shelves rather than items decreases the cost and coordination barrier many retailers faced when attempting to implement RFID technology years ago.

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Filed Under: Technology
Top image credit: Amazon