Amazon’s Vision For Reimagined Retail Looks Awfully Familiar

March 31, 2015 by Dave Haynes

amazon-184064_640The tech site re/code has a piece up about how Amazon has patents that would change up how people buy goods in brick-and-mortar stores. Problem is, that idea’s been around for a decade or so.

The site talks about recently filed patent applications that suggest shoppers would be able to pick items off shelves and leave the store without stopping at a cashier  or self-checkout kiosk.

Based around the idea of complete convenience, such a store would work using a system of cameras, sensors or RFID readers that would be able to identify shoppers and the items they’ve chosen, according to the application, which was filed in September and published in January. The technology would also potentially give Amazon a more cost-effective way to compete with traditional retailers by operating a store that doesn’t require cashiers and could similarly serve as a place to pick up online orders.

This application is a continuation of a previously filed Amazon patent application, but the new one provides more details on how the system would work in a retail setting and demonstrates that Amazon is still, at a minimum, thinking about the topic.

An Amazon spokeswoman did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

The story goes on to say:

A large part of the application Re/code uncovered describes a system that will make Amazon’s warehouses, or fulfillment centers, more efficient. The most interesting tidbits talk about how the system of devices could also help create a retail store experience. Here’s one interesting excerpt:

“[W]hen the customer passes through the exit (transition area) of the retail location, the items picked by the user may be automatically transitioned from the materials handling facility to the user and the user may be charged a fee for the items. … For example, if the user is purchasing items from a retail location, rather than the user having to stop and ‘check out’ with a cashier, teller or automated check station, because the picked items are already known and identified on an item identifier list associated with the user, the user may simply exit the retail location with the items. The exit of the user will be detected and, as the user passes through the exit (transition area), the user, without having to stop or otherwise be delayed, will automatically be charged a fee for the items (the items are transitioned to the user).”

When the person exits the store, the system triggers an email or another type of electronic message that is sent to the shopper indicating the items sold and the purchase price. Another section of the application talks about how the system could associate a rental price or “borrow time” with the shopper when he exits a rental location or library with an item. This section seems noteworthy when you consider that Amazon is now helping to operate some stores on college campuses, where students can pick up online orders a day after they are placed.

So here’s the thing: The idea of RFID-driven checkouts has been around since at least 2003, and has been tested in stores going back that far. Here’s a 2006 store of the future video by IBM, which has been known to file a patent or two, as well.

I am all over technology that securely allows me to spend as little time as humanly possible in the act of shopping. But there are still many hurdles to overcome, like the accuracy of readers (how many times have you done self-checkout where everything scanned first time?) and the cost of the tags.

Amazon may indeed have a vision for where retail is going, but it’s a vision based on years of stuff that’s already been in the field. Their patent filings are going to have a necessarily spin on doing things than what will be stacks of other patents on retail checkouts.

Bottom line – as in-store digital goes, this is anything but a new idea.

  1. Also 17x’s the amount spent online is spent in retail stores. So they are some how trying to tap that market.

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