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  • Writer's pictureJohn Ennis

Eye on AI - October 9th, 2020

Welcome to Aigora's "Eye on AI" series, where we round up exciting news at the intersection of consumer science and artificial intelligence!


This week, we’ll be focusing on big AI announcements by Amazon and Walmart that may soon change the face of their brick and mortar locations, including Amazon’s potentially revolutionary palm-based scanners and details of Walmart’s much needed digital-forward store redesign.


Amazon Go Levels Up with Palm-Based Contactless Enhancements

We begin with an article out of The Spoon that details – surprise surprise – more AI advances at Amazon stores. The article, titled “Amazon Launches Palm-based Contactless Payment Method,” outlines a remarkable new contactless palm reader called Amazon One, unveiled at a hardware show this week, that will act as an entry point to Amazon Go stores in Seattle.

“Scanning your phone to enter a Go store may be easy, but waving your hand over a device is much easier and faster,” writes Chris Albrecht, author of both articles. “This, in turn, could entice you to choose an Amazon store over the competition more often. Amazon One is also coming out during a global pandemic and at a time when retailers are looking for more contactless payment methods. Amazon also licenses out its cashierless Go technology, and combining the two could be an attractive contactless option for retailers.”

The technology works like this: upon their first Amazon Go entry, customers insert their credit card into the Amazon One system, hold their palm over a scanner for reading, grab what they need, then leave. The products they leave with will be charged automatically to their credit card. For future store use, all they’ll need to do is ‘swipe in’ using their palm. Credit cards will be stored for future use. Expect it to become a staple at Amazon Go stores in time.

It is doubtful customers will be eager to give up more of their personal data to Amazon for the sake of convenience. Amazon maintains that the palm reading technology is actually more private than alternatives, as the data can be deleted more easily by users. Hard to tell whether these reassurances are really just smoke and mirrors. Let’s hope the palm-reading tech helps move people back into retail and doesn’t cause too much disruption in the competitive landscape.

As if the palm reader wasn’t enough, Amazon also unveiled the new Echo Show 10 at a hardware show this week, which comes with everything you’d expect from a smart assistant – screen, smart speakers, etc. – though with one notable difference: the screen actually moves to follow users, giving them full screen visibility as they move throughout the room, and a new Alexa app that will soon work as an in-car display for the Echo Auto.

Walmart Unveils New Digital-Forward Store Design

Amazon isn’t the only tech giant with big in-store announcements this week. Walmart also announced that it will be giving its stores a much-needed digital-forward facelift. In a corporate blog post, Walmart unveiled some of the changes, including an app-based navigation system to help customers locate products in their massive warehouse-like stores and a new contactless checkout.

“The app, along with letter and number combinations on aisles, will provide digital navigation to help customers find products in-store,” writes Albrecht. “Stores will also now include self-checkout kiosks and contactless payments via Walmart Pay and other (unspecified) payment services. Some locations will also have Walmart’s Scan & Go cashierless checkout option.”

The app provides a simpler and more cost-effective solution to in-store navigation than the popular smart shopping carts, as most people shop with their phones anyway. Furthermore, the less data-intrusive approach may be more appealing to customers at a time when Amazon’s new grocery stores are going data-heavy. Store changes should hit two-hundred Walmart Supercenters by the end of its fiscal year, then will expand to roughly a thousand stores by next the company’s next fiscal year.

Amazon and Walmart will continue to compete for in-store customers as the pandemic continues. But they’re certainly not the only ones. Kroger also announced it will be adopting AI to reduce self-checkout errors, while others are making similar AI-upgrades. Big changes are happening in retail right now. Watch this space.

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