Why check-in is the new checkout

Sheryll Poe

Autonomous checkout is disrupting retail and creating a seamless, frictionless payment experience, but it’s also about something much bigger, according to a panel of experts at NRFtech.

“We think about it beyond the checkout but as a platform. The data redefines the customer’s store experience — what works and what doesn’t,” said Jenya Beilin, COO of Trigo Vision LTD. “Checkout is driving the engagement but once you have this technology in the store, you have revealed an enormous amount of data and understanding about your customers. Connecting that to online will create a new experience entirely.”

The “Autonomous checkout: Understanding and preparing for major industry disruption” panel featured founders from four startups (including Beilin’s Trigo Vision) actively working to build frictionless, invisible commerce, and an executive from one big retail player who is already in the early stages of deploying autonomous checkout solutions in its 47,000 stores.

“Retailers of all types and especially traditional full-line grocery and convenience stores are considering implementing autonomous checkout technology, where a mix of cameras and sensors track shoppers as they select items through the store and compile an in-app receipt with embedded payment,” said panel moderator Richard Crone, CEO of Crone Consulting LLC. “What you experience (in these stores) is a completely free business model where every customer is known, contactable and preauthorized, before they even enter the store.”

Autonomous Checkout Panel at NRFtech 2019 stage
From L-R: Krishna Motukuri, Jenya Beilin, Jordan Fisher, Daniel Eckert, Will Glaser and Richard Crone.

How Walmart got to know its customers

Daniel Eckert, senior vice president of services and digital acceleration at Walmart Inc., admits that the retail giant did not know its customers very well. With no loyalty program and relying only on “aggregated fuzzy logic based on householding of debit and credit card data that was about 45-50 percent accurate,” Walmart was “the most anonymous of anonymous retailers known to the world.”

Walmart Pay — the retailer’s wallet-free, cashier-free payment and checkout system — has changed that. “In 2014, we started to look at ways to improve the store shopping experiences because the majority of retail is still happening at physical stores,” Eckert said. One of the top complaints was that lines were too long and checkout took too much time. Walmart Pay eases that friction point, Eckert said, while giving the retailer more information about its customers and what they wanted. Today, Walmart Pay is the most downloaded mobile pay app with 58 million users, according to a recent study by Cornerstone Advisors and StrategyCorps.

“It’s not just about enrollment, it’s also about trust,” Eckert said. “You have to think about identity and trust. Those that entrust their credentials with a retailer are going to be careful about who they entrust that information with.”

More than just skipping checkout lines

“Now that computers can see the way people interact with things, everything will change. The old days of scanning slowly over a barcode scanner are on the way out.”

Will Glaser, Grabango

The “holy grail” of autonomous checkout is in-store positioning capabilities, according to Jordan Fisher, CEO and co-founder of Standard Cognition, an AI-powered autonomous checkout company. Standard Cognition is focused on retrofitting large drug stores and grocery stores with its technology, but Fisher and his team have also opened their own free-standing store called Standard Market, which relies on cameras placed throughout the store to follow customers on their journey. “The ability to know where a customer is in the store is useful for checkout, but can be used for a number of other purposes,” Fisher said, including directing customers on where to find certain items.

That’s certainly the case with Zippin’s new cashier-less convenience store, said CEO and co-founder Krishna Motukuri. The store, which recently opened in San Francisco’s SOMA district, uses a unique combination of cameras and shelf sensors to track customers and products. “With this tech that we’re building, we can solve the problem of ‘Where is this product?’ You can open the app, we know where you are and we can guide you,” Motukuri said. One distinguishing characteristic that sets Zippin apart from other autonomous payment platforms like Amazon Go is that the technology is designed to be modular and can be used in small or large stores, Motukuri said.

The other game changer for autonomous checkout has been the improvement of computer vision. “Computer vision is big and it now works,” said Will Glaser, CEO and founder of Grabango, a startup that uses advanced computer-vision and machine-learning technology to help everything from convenience stores to superstores of up to 100,000 square feet track hundreds of shoppers and products simultaneously. “Now that computers can see the way people interact with things, everything will change. The old days of scanning slowly over a barcode scanner are on the way out.” All of which will reduce and eliminate lines for customers, streamline operations for retailers and drive down costs and prices, Glaser said.