Cashierless convenience-store Amazon Go has competition: Zippin has launched a “checkout-free” software platform that enables retailers to deploy frictionless shopping. The San Francisco-based startup is opening a concept store in the South of Market (SoMA) neighborhood to showcase its automated shopping technology in a real-life retail environment. It will be open to the public for limited hours during the week beginning in mid-September.
The store follows a wave of retailers and technology firms utilizing new technologies to address checkout speed and consumer convenience. Food chains such as Fairway Market are experimenting with “line-free checkouts,” and Anderson, Ind.-based convenience-store chain Ricker's announced recently that it is rolling out frictionless checkout technology in its 58 convenience stores in Indiana with Salt Lake City-based software provider Skip.
“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.”
Zippin's patent-pending approach uses AI, machine learning and visual cognition technology that “brings an end to waiting in line,” the company said. It does not use self-scanners, and it lets shoppers enter, select their purchases and walk out. The secure Zippin platform can be deployed by any retailer wanting to offer autonomous, checkout-free shopping, it said.
Zippin’s approach to autonomous shopping does not rely solely on cameras to track purchases. Its “ecosystem, which integrates its proprietary software with readily available hardware, uses a combination of overhead cameras and smart shelf sensors for the highest level of accuracy," even in a crowded store, according to the company.
The platform offers retailers a way to meet the demand for checkout-free shopping while increasing profits by freeing-up real estate and human capital and achieving better inventory and merchandising efficiencies through real-time data captured by the system, said the company.
“With Zippin, traditional retailers can now compete against e-commerce companies, which until now have had the advantage of leveraging a host of key data about their customers," said Motukuri.
“Zippin may be the first competitor to go all-in on battling Amazon Go as the pioneers of checkout-free stores, but other leading retailers like Walmart and Albertsons have announced similar moves to enter the fray,” said Michael Jaszczyk, CEO of GK Software USA, Raleigh, N.C. “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. 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.
“Retailers must also keep in mind that this technology might not be something for all retail formats. For example, processes for weight-based items, age verification and capturing product numbers are challenges that must be solved,” he added. “But otherwise, once there is a model for excellence for other retailers to learn from, we’ll see many more retailers quickly fall in line (pun only somewhat intended).”
Consumers download the Zippin app, available on Apple's App Store and Google Play and connect their preferred payment method. The app contains their store “key” or QR code which is scanned to gain entry to a shop. Overhead cameras follow customers' movements as they move around the store—without using facial recognition (watch the video below). Cameras and smart shelf sensors track when and which products consumers pick up or put back. Combining these two inputs allows Zippin to place the right items in the right shoppers' virtual carts. On leaving the store, customers receive a receipt detailing their charges.
Founded by veterans from Amazon and SRI with deep backgrounds in retail technology, AI and computer vision, Zippin has raised venture funding from Maven Ventures, Core Ventures Group, Pear Ventures, Expansion VC and Montage Ventures.
A version of this story was published previously by WGB’s sister publication, CSP Daily News.