Amazon Rethinks Cashier-Free Stores Amazon scales back its AI-powered "Just Walk Out" checkout service

May 1, 2024
Reading time
2 min read
Amazon's Just Walk Out store

Amazon is removing grab-and-go shopping from its cart.

What’s new: Amazon withdrew Just Walk Out, an AI-driven checkout service, from most of its Amazon Fresh grocery stores, The Information reported. Instead, the stores will provide smart shopping carts. (Disclosure: Andrew Ng is a member of Amazon’s Board of Directors.)

Checking out: Just Walk Out enables shoppers to scan a payment method upon entering a store, take items from shelves tracked by computer vision and weight-detection sensors, and simply exit with their purchases, bypassing the checkout counter. Amazon had installed the system in 47 Amazon Fresh stores in the U.S. and UK. In most of those locations. Amazon will replace Just Walk Out with Dash Cart, a shopping cart that enables customers to scan purchases as they shop. Amazon will retain Just Walk Out in its Amazon Go convenience stores and an unspecified number of smaller, UK-based Amazon Fresh stores. It has licensed the system to other retailers including Hudson Markets and plans to install in more third-party stores this year.

  • Just Walk Out isn’t well suited to grocery shopping, in which customers may buy large numbers of items, since customers may not be aware of their total spending until they receive a receipt via email after leaving the store, Amazon executive Tony Hoggett said. Dash Cart enables users to see the bill in real time.
  • Just Walk Out relied on more than 1,000 remote employees to label video for training and review cases where it failed, and Amazon wasn’t able to improve the system as quickly as it expected, according to an earlier report by The Information. As of mid-2022, the system required about 700 human reviews per 1,000 sales, compared to a target between 20 and 50 per 1,000 sales. Amazon said the percentage of sales that require human review has declined since then.
  • Training the models required 2,000 technologists and cost hundreds of millions of dollars in cloud computing resources to train and run.
  • Just Walk Out’s cameras and sensors can be difficult to install in existing stores and sometimes requires extensive remodeling. The system also requires high ceilings, which existing stores may not have.

Behind the news: Amazon introduced Just Walk Out in 2016 at its first Amazon Go convenience store in Seattle. It extended the system to Amazon Fresh in 2020. Between September 2020 and September 2022, Amazon opened 44 Fresh stores in the U.S. and 19 in the UK, most of which included Just Walk Out. But Amazon’s brick-and-mortar locations suffered during the COVID-19 pandemic. From September 2022 to mid-2024, amid broader cost-cutting efforts, the company paused opening new grocery stores. 

Why it matters: Grab-and-go shopping seems like a solid bet, given the increasing focus of retailing on immediate gratification. Yet Amazon’s retreat from Just Walk Out in larger stores suggests that the technology is less well suited to such environments. In addition, shoppers may not have adjusted easily to grab-and-go behavior, which removes social interactions with cashiers and encourages customers to spend without reviewing the bill. 

We’re thinking: AI has the potential to revolutionize every field, including retailing, and it’s important to find productive uses for it. Not all experiments will succeed, but patient investment and experimentation can illuminate productive paths forward.


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