Nos. 12–13: Ama­zon’s speed rac­ers

Dilip Ku­mar and Gianna Puerini VP of tech­nol­ogy, Ama­zon Go and Ama­zon Books / VP, Ama­zon Go

Fast Company - - Contents -

Dilip Ku­mar and Gianna Puerini are rev­o­lu­tion­iz­ing re­tail by bring­ing cashier-free check­out to IRL shop­ping.

Ama­zon earned its e-com­merce bona fides more than 20 years ago by re­duc­ing the check­out process to a sin­gle click. The com­pany’s new Ama­zon Go store, in down­town Seat­tle, rep­re­sents a sim­i­lar rev­o­lu­tion. Gianna Puerini and Dilip Ku­mar have re­designed the neigh­bor­hood gro­cery as a cashier-free ex­pe­ri­ence. Shop­pers iden­tify them­selves (and their Ama­zon ac­count) by scan­ning their phones upon en­ter­ing. Ceil­ing-mounted cam­eras and AI soft­ware iden­tify items as they’re re­moved from shelves—and shop­pers sim­ply leave when they’re done. Peo­ple queued up around the block when Go opened in Jan­uary. Ama­zon is re­port­edly plan­ning to open up to six more this year, and the “just walk out” con­cept has al­ready been cloned in China.

When you set out to cre­ate this store, did you feel like, “We can do this” or “This seems pre­pos­ter­ous”? DILIP

KU­MAR: We had to keep dis­tin­guish­ing be­tween things that were im­pos­si­ble and things that just hadn’t been done be­fore. Other gro­cers have cre­ated tech­nol­ogy that lets shop­pers scan each item, pay on their phone, and walk out, but we de­lib­er­ately de­cided not to do that. It wouldn’t have been ef­fort­less.

What was the hard­est tech­nol­ogy chal­lenge you faced in mak­ing Go a re­al­ity? DK: Ama­zon has a his­tory of us­ing ma­chine learn­ing and com­puter vi­sion in its con­sumer busi­ness. We re­lied on that, but we spent a lot of the time de­vel­op­ing the right cam­eras to build upon that tech­nol­ogy. They’re 10 feet away from the mer­chan­dise, and we have to fig­ure out who’s buy­ing what. All of that we had to build from scratch.

Ama­zon now owns a large chain of gro­cery stores. Can we ex­pect to see Go tech­nol­ogy in Whole Foods? GIANNA

PUERINI: There are no plans to use the tech­nol­ogy at Whole Foods. We asked our­selves, “Where are you of­ten in a rush?” Food went to the top of the list. The fol­low-[up] was, “Well, what kind of food store is best suited to that value propo­si­tion?”

What sur­prised you about how peo­ple re­act to the Ama­zon Go ex­pe­ri­ence? GP: I knew peo­ple would like get­ting a lit­tle time back, but I un­der­es­ti­mated how it would feel to ac­tu­ally leave the store. We found so many cus­tomers stop­ping and ask­ing one of our as­so­ciates, “Are you sure it’s okay if I just walk out?” That’s a cooler, more mag­i­cal mo­ment than I imag­ined.

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