Years ago, when I first interviewed Zippin Co-Founder and CEO, Krishna Motukuri, he kept talking to me about accuracy, and about how important it was to the success of the (then and still) nascent cashierless checkout technology sector.
I understood his point, but in my mind I kinda yadda-yadda’d the whole accuracy point because of course it’s important and cahierless checkout was shiny and new and look at those cameras and shelf sensors and AI! Yeah, yeah. Accuracy. Got it.
But this hand waving came back to bite me on a trip I took to Arizona earlier this summer. The Phoenix airport had a countertop cashierless checkout setup at one of its convenience stores. The line was long, and no one was using said system* so I popped out of line, placed my two items (a bottle of water, and I think some gum) on the system, which used cameras to “see” what I was buying. It prompted me to pay, which I did. Boom! Done. Fast and easy! Lines are for suckers!
But as I was about to leave, I looked at the printed receipt, and uh-oh.
Now, listen. This is going to sound super Karen-y and pedantic, but I swear there is a point here. I had placed a Nestlé bottle of water on the system, but it registered a different brand. The difference in price was negligible — maybe a dime or so, but the bigger issue was the computer vision hadn’t recognized the right product. It was inaccurate.
The line was still long for the human cashier, so to me, it wasn’t worth standing in line to wait and then complain about the whiz-bang cashierless checkout system being wrong about my bottled water, and then wait as I was refunded ten cents, making everyone else in line behind me wait as I got my digital dime placed back on my card.
So I ate the ten cents. (not all heroes wear capes)
Now, this was just over a dime. But at scale, multiply that dime out across thousands of locations and you start to get some real accounting and inventory issues and consumer payment inaccuracies. And, let’s game this out a bit, if there is a big delay between when you leave a cashierless checkout store and when you get your receipt (ahem — Amazon), multiple or bigger inaccuracies could be a real problem for consumers who are already paying a lot more for their goods.
Motukuri was right — accuracy is super important for cashierless checkout! Especially since the technology is just getting off the ground and people are getting used to it.
Now, I should follow this anecdote up with a couple caveats:
Like I said, this happened back in July, I should have written about it sooner, but life kinda got crazy for me.
The company may have fixed this image recognition issue, if there even was an issue. It may have been an extremely isolated case.
I’m a HUGE believer in cashierless checkout, especially at places like airports where people are pressed for time. In a very privilege-y way, I get a little annoyed when cashierless checkout isn’t an option for quick, convenience store-like purchases. So I want Zippin and Mashgin and Grabango and AiFi to work and succeed!
I should also say that I used that same company’s cashierless checkout setup at a different store at the Seattle airport a couple weeks later and it worked perfectly.
*I’m not using the name because that’s not really fair. This story happened a couple months back, and I haven’t reached out since.
That’s it for this week!