Insights

The Race for Retail Automation

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In the wake of Amazon Go, other retailers spanning the spectrum from the world’s top companies to small tech startups have been strategizing to implement automated brick-and-mortar stores. To compete with Amazon, retailers are relying on speed, efficiency, and innovation to gain competitive advantage.

Technologies that are currently being tested include shelf-stocking robots, smartphone-dependent checkout screens, and “just-walk-out” Amazon Go-esque systems. China is particularly invested in storefront automation — Alibaba’s Hema has opened 35 automated grocery stores, and JD has claimed to be planning hundreds of convenience stores that operate without cashiers. In the US, retail giants such as Walmart and Kroger are experimenting with similar innovations.

As a New York Times article points out, there are concerns with AI-enabled brick and mortar. “Retailers like Amazon could compile reams of data about where customers spend time inside their doors, comparable to what internet companies already know about their online habits.” This perspective mirrors a question we asked last week: is Amazon Go just a data machine?