Unchaining the checkout appears to be all the rage, at least among tech giants.
Amazon Go’s cashierless experience may have a new rival in Microsoft, which is reportedly working on its own tech for grab-and-go shopping, Reuters said Thursday.
According to sources, the Windows maker’s system, like Amazon’s, will be able to monitor shelves and note what customers take using cameras and sensors, and automatically bill the goods against stored credit cards. Shopping at Amazon Go, which requires a smartphone and mobile app, works rather well — though it can be hard for shoppers to get used to plucking a product and just walking out of the store. Microsoft’s version would have to measure up, if it hopes to make inroads with other retailers.
Toward that end, the software company reportedly has been shopping sample tech around to retailers including, notably, Walmart. For the retail giant, adoption of such Microsoft tech could be one way to help fend off Amazon encroachment. Its e-commerce rival has been looking to expand Amazon Go’s footprint, with stores coming soon to Chicago and San Francisco.
Right now, the battle’s venue appears to be groceries, prepared meals and wine, which is all that Amazon carries in its brick-and-mortar operation. But Walmart’s physical stores have no such limitation, with its discount stock covering shoes, clothing, jewelry, toys and much more.
Granted, the idea of nixing checkout lines is nothing new — Apple customers may be familiar with self-checkouts using the Apple Store app, and others like Sephora have been dabbling with self-service and mobile checkout solutions. But the retail sector as a whole hasn’t managed to fully divorce itself from the cash wrap. And many of those terminals are PCs running the Windows operating system.
The move appears to be Microsoft taking steps to ensure its place in stores and prepare for next-generation shopping scenarios.
For retailers, such innovations may offer an enticing convenience feature and more. According to Mai Kang, vice president of research operations at market research firm Fuel Cycle, it could be a marketing opportunity.
“Convenience is a key driver for today’s consumers to purchase both online and off-line, and the retail apocalypse is the aftermath of consumers embracing convenient online purchasing,” Kang said. “[But retailers] cannot lose sight of the intrinsic value of having a physical retail space — increasing loyalty by bringing customers in-store and providing them with a unique experience.”
Nikki Baird, Aptos’ vice president of retail innovation, seems less gung-ho. She doesn’t see Amazon Go’s tech as being revolutionary, noting that other vendors offer off-the-shelf, video-based customer behavior monitoring, including what customers put in their baskets.
“What made Amazon Go unique is that it was the first retailer to put it out there for consumers to use and try,” she said. “Any retailer, with the budget and intestinal fortitude, can do what Go does today, and could have beat Amazon to market with it. But they didn’t. Microsoft, in bringing something similar to market, is merely underscoring that the technology is not revolutionary.” She doesn’t believe consumers hold high expectations of cashierless shopping yet.
“What retailers should take note of, and worry about, is that it is technology companies that are driving the innovation here,” she added, “and not the retail industry itself.”