Amazon’s Go checkout-free grocery concept store proved immediately popular, with the retailer saying it would open more stores in the US. While it’s not clear how disruptive to the grocery or broader retail industry Amazon Go might become, Microsoft apparently wants to help traditional retailers proactively compete.
Reuters reported earlier today that Microsoft is developing systems and technology “that would eliminate cashiers and checkout lines from stores.” The company is reportedly in discussions with Walmart.
While it’s not clear how far along Microsoft is with the proposed technology, the company has been circling the space for years. Roughly 10 years ago, Microsoft developed a smart shopping cart and tested it with a grocery partner on the US East Coast. But the project never rolled out or went beyond a limited test.
Microsoft has a massive cloud business, and helping retailers better compete with Amazon’s checkout-free concept could pay dividends in multiple ways. The Microsoft approach would involve both the cloud and the “intelligent edge,” as the company refers to devices and systems in the field.
The system Microsoft is developing reportedly seeks to minimize hardware requirements and costs for retailers, to remove friction and potential resistance to adoption. Reuters reports the system could use smartphones and involves “attaching cameras [with computer vision] to shopping carts.”
In addition to Microsoft, there are other companies working on developing technology for retail that would eliminate traditional cashiers and checkout lines and be an improvement over today’s self-scanning checkout systems.
Walmart declined to comment for the Reuters report. However, the Arkansas-based retailer is the world’s largest employer, and cashiers comprise a large percentage of its 2-million-plus workforce. Accordingly, widespread deployment of cashier-free checkout systems is an example of how artificial intelligence could eliminate millions of jobs for low-skilled workers.
There are roughly 3.6 million cashier jobs in the US, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. But concern about a potentially adverse impact on employment won’t slow the technology, given competitive pressures, perceptions of consumer demand and market momentum.
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