Amazon Fresh Abandons ‘Just Walk Out’ Technology in Its Grocery Stores Which Reportedly Relied On People Watching From India

By: Alex Trent | Published: Apr 03, 2024

The senior vice president of grocery stores for Amazon has confirmed that the ‘Just Walk Out’ program is being dropped from many of the company’s Amazon Fresh stores. The story was first reported by The Information on Tuesday.

The program previously allowed customers in over half of Amazon Fresh stores to skip the checkout process for their groceries, in a seemingly automated process.

What is ‘Just Walk Out?’

The ‘Just Walk Out’ program was an initiative that relied on customers scanning QR codes and leaving the store with their purchases without going to the register.

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An Amazon Fresh location advertising "a fresh take on your daily shop."

Source: JOHN K THORNE/Wikimedia

Amazon makes use of technology that “allows businesses to offer consumers a fast, frictionless way to shop without the hassle of checking out…Just Walk Out technology simplifies the shopping experience by removing checkout and helping consumers to get in and out quickly and seamlessly.”

Workers in India

Because customers just have to walk out of the store with their groceries, many saw it as an automated process. However, the technology behind the program actually relied on a series of cameras and sensors to track what people were walking out with that was not completely automated.

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An art piece featuring a camera.

Tobias Tullius

Just Walk Out reportedly relied on more than 1,000 workers in India who would watch and label items being taken out of the stores to ensure that inventory numbers were matching up.

Hidden Cashiers

Effectively, this program moved the jobs of cashiers from being in front of the customer to behind a camera. It also allowed Amazon to outsource jobs to other countries instead of relying on hiring cashiers locally who would be serving a similar role.

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A Samsung cell phone with the Amazon app open.

Source: Christian Wiediger/Unsplash

While Amazon touted its incorporation of generative AI, it seems that humans were integral to the process behind the scenes, just out of view of customers.

Human Reviewers

The Information reporting found that 700 out of 1,000 Just Walk Out sales required a human reviewer as part of the process in 2022.

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An Amazon Fresh store located in Warrington, Pennsylvania.

Source: Dough4872/Wikimedia

This number is reportedly well short of Amazon’s target goal which is less than 50 reviews per 1,0000 sales. Amazon has hoped to better incorporate AI learning systems to make the process not have to rely on humans.

Amazon’s Response

Amazon disputes the reporting by The Information, saying that it has mischaracterized the number of purchases requiring reviews.

Close-up of the Amazon logo on the side of a building, featuring dark letters and the company's distinctive orange smile arrow

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“The primary role of our Machine Learning data associates is to annotate video images, which is necessary for continuously improving the underlying machine learning model powering,” a spokesperson for Amazon told Gizmodo. The spokesperson said that associates will validate shopping visits “in a small minority” of cases when AI can’t figure out the purchase.

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Dash Carts

An Amazon spokesman told Gizmodo that the move away from Just Walk Out is in preparation for a new service, Amazon Dash Cart. The tech giant Amazon has confirmed that these smart-shopping carts will be replacing technology from the Just Walk Out program.

A green shopping cart viewed from above containing a small number of grocery items: a package of Vita Coco coconut water, a bag of Doritos chips, and a plastic container of mixed vegetable salad

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Amazon describes Dash Cart as “a smart cart that makes grocery trips faster and more personalized than ever. Find items quickly and easily.”

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Sprucing Up Stores

The Information reports that Amazon is pulling out of the program from all of its larger stores, “sprucing up stores across the board” in an effort to prepare to expand more locations of Amazon Fresh.

An Amazon Fresh store located in Washington, DC when it opened, featuring automatic checkout.

Source: Dough4872/Wikmedia

The first Amazon Fresh grocery store was opened in late 2020 in Los Angeles. In November, The Verge reported that physical stores for Amazon Fresh only existed in “California, New York, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Washington, Washington, DC, and New Jersey.”

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History of Just Walk Out

At the time of its release in 2016, Just Walk Out was seen as a huge innovation in shopping. People were thrilled with the idea of skipping long grocery wait times to get their items checked out. Whether it was waiting for cashiers or self-checkout kiosks, customers were tired of increased wait times.

The interior of an Amazon Fresh store showcasing a cart and aisles full of products.

Source: Atomicdragon136/Wikimedia

The psychology of customers makes them tend to overreport wait times. An OPEX Learning report found that customers who wait five minutes report the time feeling twice as long.

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Struggling to Get Receipts

The rollout of Just Walk Out was hindered by difficulties processing receipts and expensive investment in technology. Sometimes customers had to wait hours for their receipts because offshore workers had to continually rewatch videos and had problems assigning items to different customers.

A receipt prints out of a machine featuring a keypad with numbers and colored buttons.

Source: Towfiqu Barbhuiya/Unsplash

The program relied on a system of scanners and video cameras, which would quickly add up in cost for individual stores.

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Just Walk Out Staying in a Limited Role

Reportedly, Amazon is keeping its Just Walk Out technology in certain smaller locations in the United Kingdom. It will also be keeping the technology in  American ballparks like Houston Astros’ stadium where it serves as a cashless checkout system for baseball fans.

An Amazon Fresh location located in London.

Source: No Swan So Fine/Wikimedia

This program helped eliminate lines for concessions, as tens of thousands of people can cram into these huge stadiums at one time.

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Amazon Versus Competitors

Amazon’s foray into the grocery store industry has been met with stiff competition from major players like Walmart, Costco, and Kroger in the United States. While Amazon lags behind these competitors on the physical level, with only 1% of the grocery market in 2022, online shoppers are highly aware of the brand.

A laptop with showing Walmart's website on its display screen.

Marques Thomas/Unsplash

A Statista March report found that Amazon Fresh had a 77 percent brand awareness among online grocery delivery users in 2023.

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