‘Just Walk’ stores have been the latest craze in the supermarket world, offering the option to shop without tills by monitoring the items you pick up as you walk around the store. Customers load their payment method onto their phones or tap their card at the store entrance and, when leaving, the gates pick up how many items you have and charge your account automatically.

It all seems very clever and futuristic – but how on earth does it actually work?

By using artificial intelligence, including generative AI, the technology can accurately determine what customers take in any retail environment. The AI works on synthetic datasets mimicking millions of realistic shopping scenarios, including variations in store format, lighting conditions and even crowds of shoppers, to ensure accuracy in any environment. Clever, right?

However, despite the approach being discussed far and wide in the industry, recent times have seen some retailers closing their ‘Just Walk’ stores. But what does this mean for the industry? Will ‘Just Walk’ supermarkets be adopted as standard? Or will we see a new type of supermarket start to emerge?

Why have ‘Just Walk’ stores been implemented in the first place?

The technology behind ‘Just Walk’ stores was originally developed to improve customer shopping experience. The goal was to remove any points of friction, allowing customers to enter the store, do their shopping and pay without needing to wait in a single queue.

An added benefit of this approach was to reduce staff labour. Rather than having too many staff on the tills, staff numbers could be reduced to lower overheads for supermarkets, or staff could complete other tasks such as maintaining stock levels to improve customer experience.

Given these benefits, many supermarkets are choosing to adopt a ‘Just Walk’ approach in their stores. For example, Simply Fresh is opening a store at London Gatwick’s Electric Forecourt utilising Just Walk Out technology, which was originally developed by Amazon. The store is opening soon, in December 2023, so keep an eye out!

The success of ‘Just Walk’ stores

Despite ‘Just Walk’ supermarkets being hailed as a ‘watershed moment’ by one retail expert, Amazon, which launched the original ‘Just Walk’ store in the UK, has decided to close its first store. Amazon claimed the store was closed after an assessment of its ‘portfolio of stores’, with new outlets planned in due course. Campaigners have also raised privacy concerns over how the technology operates, questioning the future of ‘Just Walk’ stores.

The future of technology in supermarkets

Despite the questions raised in the use of ‘Just Walk’ technology, like most sectors, the grocery industry is having to consider how to integrate the use of AI into their daily operations.

For some, this is trialling ‘Just Walk’ technology on a slightly lesser scale. For example, Tesco has added scan-free kiosks in some of its stores. As the customer walks up to the kiosk, it will automatically show a list of all the items they have picked. The customer then must review the list and can pay for their shopping without having to scan each product individually.

Trials such as Tesco’s will likely become a more regular sight in the grocery market, considering how AI can be utilised to reduce cashier labour, boost store efficiency and improve customer experience. Whether this will be the ‘Just Walk’ approach introduced by Amazon…only time will tell.

Are you a brand in the food and drinks industry considering how to integrate AI into your brand? Or maybe you have already done so? We’d love to hear from you!