Amazon Go's rivals may threaten each other more than Amazon

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Amazon Go’s getting a lot of the attention among cashierless store projects, but it's far from alone. However, any attempts to dethrone Amazon are just as likely to help it succeed.

The cashierless rivals include smaller companies built on the no-checkout concept; and larger brands like Walmart that are working to create a cashierless process that works alongside their traditional retail layout.

But no matter how much these brands try to steal Amazon's thunder, they may merely serve as free marketing for Amazon Go — and that will likely leave the alternative technology providers fighting among themselves for a distant second place.

Zippin, for example, opened its cashierless store in San Francisco about a month ago, beating Amazon Go in the city. The model for its store is almost identical to Amazon's: Shoppers use a QR code to check in at the store’s entrance, and then are followed by the overhead cameras. When shoppers leave, their items are charged to a preloaded payment account.

Standard Cognition also operates a cashierless store in San Francisco. Though the company is meant to be a vendor to other brands, it operates this store directly.

“We have first-mover advantage in terms of having a working production system,” said Michael Suswal, co-founder and COO of Standard Cognition. ”And we think that’s very significant, because now other companies’ technology will be compared to ours.”

Experts are less sure of the value of being first to a particular market.

“Amazon’s brand will be a big advantage when it enters San Francisco. If anything [the stores before Amazon Go] will help by buoying the entire cashier less ecosystem, making it easier for Amazon to succeed,” said Rick Oglesby, founder and president of AZ Payments.

Much of Amazon's power in the cashierless race comes from its reputation as a disruptive juggernaut in e-commerce. Once a bane of traditional booksellers, Amazon has moved aggressively in the grocery and food delivery space, well beyond its acquisition of Whole Foods.

Even if grocery and convenience stores can't put Amazon out of business, they may want to avoid the risk of waiting too long to update their model.

“Most retailers need to start working on this now,” said Krishna Motukuri, CEO of Zippin, one of the Amazon alternatives. “They need to have this technology up and running over the next several years if they want to stay relevant.”

Zippin, which is about the size of a small convenience store, uses a mix of cameras and weight sensors on the shelves to track activity. Like Amazon Go, it requires customers to first load an app that functions as a mobile wallet for that store.

“This is like Uber and Lyft,” Motukuri said. “You register the payment method beforehand. You check into the store and then you don’t need your phone out to do anything.”

Motukuri compares Zippin's cameras to satellites which look directly down at consumers’ heads. Because of this, Zippin does not use facial recognition, and does not take or store images of shoppers. Motukuri also contends this solves the “people volume” problem that some cashierless stores have suffered.

“We can see every corner of the store without any disruptions. If there are 30 people in the store, no one customer can block another," Motukuri said.

While most companies in this space don’t discuss technology in detail, there have been reports that the mix of bluetooth low energy beacons and cameras,or other options such as the mounting of cameras on shopping carts, doesn’t always work in crowded stores because people pass in close proximity to each other. Amazon also warns Go shoppers not to grab items off the shelf for other shoppers, since it will attribute the sale to the person who first removed the product. g to Motukuri.

Zippin plans to sell its technology to other retailers. Its San Francisco store is in pilot, and the company did not release usage stats.

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