An Amazon Go clone for the camera shy

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The cashierless Amazon Go store is also very much a metaphor for the surveillance state — cameras are everywhere, and each shopper's every move is tracked meticulously to determine which products they picked up, put down or left the store with.

For stores that don't want such a high-tech makeover, options for automatic checkout options are being built on a much simpler foundation.

The Boston-based Moltin is part of an emerging trend to recreate the Amazon Go experience without relying on dozens of high-tech cameras to and sensors. Instead, Moltin merges an IoT transaction concept with in-store contactless payments for self-checkout.

"It's easier than putting 200 cameras on the ceiling. That's the issue the retail industry has," said Jamus Driscoll, Moltin's CEO. "[Automatic checkout] needs to be simple so everybody can take advantage of it. We wanted to look at the assets that are available for all of us, like smartphones."

With Moltin's system, consumers navigate to the store's URL and scan a bar code on an item to automatically charge the consumer's Apple Pay, Google Pay or card account without having to download an additional app from the store. A receipt appears on the consumer's phone, which he or she shows to a store rep on the way out.

The setup is not the simple "just walk out" experience that Amazon Go promises, but it still eliminates the point of sale terminal, dedicated self-checkout kiosks, e-commerce checkout pages, and special video-sensing equipment deployed inside stores, which carry a cost that may not be affordable for all retailers.

On the back end, Moltin's API submits product information, creates a cart, and adds products to the cart. The self-checkout feature integrates with other technology a store may be using, such as a mobile point of sale system or Stripe.

Consumers have the option to use the store's app, but they don't have to since a payment can be made mostly by scanning a code. "Most consumers say they already have enough apps on their phone," Driscoll said.

Moltin just completed its first deployment at Stance, San Clemente, Calif.-based retailer that specializes in athletic socks (as narrow as that sounds, Stance is the official sock of Major League Baseball and the NBA).

"We were able to quickly build and deploy a self-checkout solution that essentially means our guests never have to wait in line again," said Paul Zaengle, executive vice president of direct-to-consumer at Stance, in an email. "Our guests are loving it, and as mobile wallets are more widely used we feel like customers will grow to expect solutions like this from retailers."

Moltin's strategy suggests there will be a range of options to create walk in/walk out experiences at retailers as opposed to a "winning" model. Amazon has inspired a change in retail technology strategy with its Go concept, but there's a variety of other approaches to manage store sizes, consumer traffic volumes, and other variables that have challenged early attempts.

Another large-scale project is being developed by Microsoft, which is in talks with Walmart to build no-cashier checkout. Microsoft is considering multiple options, such as attaching cameras to shopping carts, an idea Walmart has already rejected in the past.

Every innovation in the payment space starts with a proliferation of applications that have terrific promise, said Thad Peterson, a senior analyst at Aite Group, adding that the market, and the merchant, decides where the value is, and those are the offerings that survive and ultimately thrive. "It appears that 'cashierless' technology is on the same path," Peterson said.

Eliminating checkout is the ultimate expression of frictionless commerce, and there is real opportunity for merchants to increase sales and at the same time enhance the customer experience by making checkout as easy and fast as possible, Peterson said.

"The key driver though, is the use case," Peterson said. "Having the consumer scan their own products and then walking out without going to the point of sale is great, but I’m not sure that consumers would find scanning an entire cart of groceries more convenient than letting a store associate handle that job at the point of sale."

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Retailers Internet of things Mobile point-of-sale