Amazon’s new smart shopping cart lets you check out without a cashier

Photo: Amazon

Amazon is expanding its real-world footprint with another unconventional physical product: a shopping cart. While it certainly looks like an aesthetic upgrade to your standard grocery store cart, the Dash Cart, as it’s called, is in fact a smart version of the tried-and-true food transport vehicle.

It’s equipped with a touchscreen and other various hardware components to automatically detect what items you’re placing inside and even how many of those items you’ve picked off the shelf. When you’re done shopping, you’re allowed to take the cart through a special lane that checks you out digitally without requiring a human cashier to ring you up.

The idea builds on Amazon’s approach of trying to take the convenience it’s mastered in the digital realm and bring it into the real world. For years now, Amazon has been trying to apply all the learning its picked up from developing Alexa-powered products, including microwaves and wall clocks, and establishing a brick-and-mortar presence through its Whole Foods acquisition and growing Amazon Go store network. Those efforts are now resulting in hybrid products that bridge the digital and physical, if only in small and experimental bursts.

The Dash Cart is coming first to Amazon’s grocery store in the Woodland Hills neighborhood of Los Angeles. The store, first confirmed last year, is not an Amazon Go store, meaning it does not have the cameras, sensors, and other equipment built into the ceiling for automatically detecting items you take off the shelves. Instead, this is your standard, everyday grocery store, only it has smart Amazon-made grocery carts for you to use. The store is up and running for fulfilling online grocery orders, but the physical space isn’t yet open to the public; Amazon says it’s aiming to open the store later this year. The store joins Amazon’s network of existing Whole Foods locations and its larger-format Amazon Go grocery store that opened in Seattle back in February.

It’s not clear why Amazon is opting for a more traditional store, given its more than two dozen Go stores and a planned second Go Grocery in the works for the Redmond area of Washington. On one hand, it could be that the Go model is hard to scale at the size necessary for a full-service grocery store; the Go Grocery in Seattle is on the smaller side, while the new Woodland Hills location is reportedly at the site of a former Toys “R” Us, which is certainty much larger. There’s also the privacy question, and whether the Go format’s tracking and surveillance approach is maybe not as palatable as a smart shopping cart a consumer must opt in to use.

Photo: Amazon

That said, it does seem as if scaling its cashierless approach either from a privacy perspective or a technical one is a challenge Amazon is trying to overcome, and the cart is one to do that in a small and manageable fashion. For now, Amazon isn’t ready to use the Dash Cart technology beyond low-key grocery trips. So the device can handle up to about two bags of items, but it can’t do a full cart quite yet. That means the Woodland Hills store will have standard carts and standard checkout lanes for all the customers who are shopping for more than what the Dash Cart will allow.

But other than that, Amazon’s Dilip Kumar, the company’s vice president of physical retail and technology, tells The Verge everything else is fair game, including produce and other food items not contained in traditional packaging. “[The Dash Cart] has a ring of cameras, a scale, and computer vision and weight sensors to determine not just the item, but the quantity of the item,” he says. For an item like, say, an apple, the touchscreen on the cart itself allows you to input the price look-up code of the item before you place it in the cart to be weighed and added to your order.

The cart processes your order at the end of the trip only because you’ve first signed into your Amazon account on your phone and scanned it at the beginning of the grocery trip. The cart also has a coupon scanner built in and supports Amazon’s Alexa shopping lists feature. When you finish shopping, Amazon says dedicated Dash Cart lanes let you just exit the store without dealing with payments or waiting in a checkout line.

Amazon isn’t saying whether this cart will make it out of the Woodland Hills store, as the company doesn’t typically talk about new locations or even future plans regarding its physical grocery store expansion. But there is a good chance that, in the event the Dash Cart is a hit among consumers, Amazon could be rolling this out elsewhere. It’s easy to see, for instance, how such a device might function in a Whole Foods store and help cut down on checkout times, although perhaps there might even be waits to use the carts themselves, if it works as well as advertised.

Comments

This is super cool and all… but those touch screens are going to be disgusting and barely functional after about 2 hours of abuse.

I disagree, I think they will be fine. ‘Scan and Go’ shopping has been a thing in the UK for a few years now and that involves each shopper having a physical handset with a screen which they carry round the store. I can imagine they’ve been dropped, knocked against things, licked etc you name it.

They seem to be doing okay so a secure touchscreen within a trolley will do okay, albeit covered in a massive amount of germs.

So they don’t make their own stuff as the easy to break phones we common people use.

You’d think so, but nope. They’re pretty rugged. Giant, which operates on the east coast of the US also has carts with touchscreens in them and every time I’ve used one they’ve been in good shape.

I’d still manage to get the one with the wonky wheel

One of these ‘regular’ Amazon grocery stores is also opening in Schaumburg, Illinois too. Amazon used shell companies to buy the property, but confirmed it about a month ago.

https://www.dailyherald.com/business/20200527/amazon-behind-mystery-grocery-store-coming-to-schaumburg

There’s also one opening about 15 or so miles south in Naperville too.

https://www.chicagotribune.com/suburbs/naperville-sun/ct-nvs-amazon-grocery-store-route-59-naper-st-20200227-sujk4pekarh57ivc2kupce5f3a-story.html

They’re taking over spaces that were left when a grocery chain in Chicagoland closed a few years ago, so there could end up being quite a few of them in Chicago and suburbs.

I feel this is searching for a solution to a problem that already has a perfectly fine one already, thats cheaper, easier to maintain and doesn’t needlessly reinvent the trolley.

I do Scan and shop, which is great in this COVID world, where I scan the items i pick up on my phone, stick it straight into the shopping bags in my trolley, go to a till where unless I have an age restricted item I can sort myself out pay for it on my phone, collect my loyalty points and leave.

Or if im not using my phone I can use a scanner they provide.

Just on a cost point id rather invest in scanners than a combined trolley/scanner.

But it isn’t a scanner. It automatically detects (using a combo of cameras and probably RFID) what’s put in it. Its more convenient since you just put stuff in and go, but from the story it doesn’t appear to be able to handle big carts.

exactly. the only action of the customer needs to be, pick up and place into cart. no scan, no weigh, no click.

Damn this totally seems like the future of grocery shopping in the US. Maybe in other countries too since they probably don’t shop in bulk as much as Americans.

View All Comments
Back to top ↑