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Wait, it takes *hours* for Amazon Fresh cashierless receipts to arrive?
A sneak-peek at what the OttOmate newsletter will look like.
Bloomberg brought receipts
Bloomberg’s Matt Day recently went shopping at the Amazon Fresh store up here in Bellevue, Washington. Big deal, you might think, so a reporter went grocery shopping.
Au contraire! Amazon Fresh is different from other supermarkets because like Amazon’s Go Stores, the Fresh market offers cashierless checkout. Scan your phone’s Prime App as you walk in, grab what you want and scan again as you leave, getting charged automatically when you leave the store.
But unlike Amazon Go stores, Amazon Freshes are a lot bigger. Go stores are typically between 1,700 - 2,500 sq. ft. and Amazon Fresh is 25,000 sq. ft. Size matters in this case because there have been questions around how much Amazon’s (and other startup’s) cashierless checkout systems can scale. The company’s “Just Walk Out” technology uses a combination of cameras, computer vision, shelf sensors and AI to keep track of what shoppers pick up.
A small convenience-sized store doesn’t have that many products or shoppers to keep track of at any given moment. But a full-sized grocery store, with thousands of SKUs and a lot more customers actively shopping at any given time, is another matter entirely. The bigger the store, the more complex the whole situation becomes and the more technology you need to install to make cashierless checkout work.
So what stood out most to me in Bloomberg’s story was this graph:
A few hours after I left, the receipt for my items arrived by email. That’s different than my experience at the pocket-sized Amazon Go convenience stores in Seattle, which tend to send a receipt a few minutes after you walk out. People familiar with the Just Walk Out technology say delays can be an indication that footage was flagged for human review to make sure the software correctly logged what was taken off the shelf. An Amazon spokesperson declined to explain the delay, and said shoppers across stores using Just Walk Out technology receive receipts within a few hours. [Emphasis mine]
I was surprised that Amazon was that blasé about a receipt taking that long to be received. I even confirmed with Day that Amazon’s response wasn’t a typo (it wasn’t).
An hour, let alone hour-urz is a loooong time to wait for a receipt. Especially for a new type of autonomous shopping experience people are unfamiliar with, and one where you don’t interact with anyone as you leave the store.
The first time you experience cashierless checkout, it feels a little like shoplifting. No one stops you as you grab a handful of candy and leave. It’s the perfect crime! But that illicit thrill immediately turns to a little bit of concern the longer you wait for your receipt: Did Amazon accurately see which items I got? Did I get charged the right amount? And, why am I eating so much candy?
Confirmation speed is actually important for cashierless checkout to gain mainstream acceptance. The last thing you want is to grab your goods, get back home or to the office only to learn Amazon’s AI goofed. At that point, do you just let it go and assume Jeff Bezos has absconded with your money into orbit?
When I first spoke with autonomous retail startup AiFi CEO, Steve Gu, back in October of 2019, real-time receipts was his big pitch. At the time, he said AiFi’s technology produced receipts in 200 milliseconds (for convenience sized stores). I’m no Time Lord, but 200 milliseconds is a lot faster than a couple of hours, and I’d rather know sooner than later that Amazon is charging me properly.
And speed will be important for the success of cashierless checkout. The pandemic has helped fuel interest in autonomous retail because it removes one layer of human-to-human interaction/transmission, and it keeps strangers from congregating in checkout lines. These are good things in our COVID era! With its first-mover advantage and massive reach, Amazon is in a unique position to drive adoption — and equally as important — trust in cashierlss checkout.
But you can’t trust an experience that makes you wait an hour or two for confirmation.
With the amount of money Amazon is spending to build out its network of cashierless checkout stores, it wants your trust (and your money) as well. Shrinking the delta between when you leave the store and when you get your receipt will go a long way towards building both.
Feed Us Ex Machina
With the news out of the way, I can officially welcome you to the pre-launch, sneak-peek of OttOmate, your friendly guide to the future of food automation and robotics! This week’s issue is meant to give everyone an amuse-bouche of what the actual newsletter will look like when it goes fully live on September 10.
The best way to think about OttOmate is to think of Swedish music producers. Specifically think of hitmakers like Denniz Pop and Max Martin who strove to “cut out the boring parts” when making songs to get right to the hook.
OttOmate should hook you in and entertain you as it is making you smarter about robots, and it shouldn’t take longer to read than your average pop song. So, here’s what you can expect from OttOmate going forward.
A daily story. This is for everyone, including free subscribers, posted on the OttOmate.news website and emailed to free subs at the end of each week. It’ll be a brief bit of news along with why it’s important.
Weekly newsletter. This is for paid subscribers only. Each newsletter will include:
1 - 2 bigger stories that highlight and analyze a particular trend in food automation
Early access to the podcast, which will feature Q&As with execs from across the food automation landscape
Headlines with links to stories I think you’ll appreciate
A fun kicker that has nothing to do with robotics at all
NOTE: This particular sneak-peek newsletter doesn’t have the podcast because I’m sending it out to everyone. The OttOmate podcast will start appearing next week (9/10).
Got an idea to make OttOmate better? Send me a note! OttOmate is just me, so I can try lots of different things.
Got a pitch? If you’re with a food automation startup or a PR firm representing one (see our full coverage areas here), drop me a line! I’m always on the lookout for news and podcast guests.
Like what you read? Consider signing up for a paid subscription. It’s the main way we can keep the lights on. Check out our subscription plans.
Want merch? We got OttOmate shirts and hoodies.
Thanks for checking this issue out! I appreciate your time and hope you’ll stick around!
AxleHire to scale Tortoise and URB-E zero-emissions delivery solutions nationally (TechCrunch) - The last-mile logistics startup will deploy 100+ of Tortoise’s remote-controlled delivery robots.
Los Angeles International Airport Rolls Out NomNom, a Semi-Autonomous Food Delivery Robot (The Spoon) - Indoor food delivery via robots in large spaces like airports will arrive much faster than on public roads.
AI-powered weed destroying startup harvests $27M round, farmers say laser-blasting machine saves time and cuts pesticide use (Geekwire) - Seattle-based Carbon Robotics is kinda similar to Small Robot Company, which uses electricity to autonomously zap weeds.
Nuro to create ‘tens of thousands of autonomous delivery vehicles’ (The Engineer) - The autonomous delivery vehicle company is spending $40M on a production facility in southern Nevada that will employ 250 people.
Speaking of employment…
Per Scholas Helps Tech Companies Hire Diverse Talent
A big question looming over food robotics and automation is the loss of jobs for human workers. It’s a big complicated issue that we will definitely delve into in later issues. But from the outset of launching OttOmate, I didn’t want to just talk about jobs for people, I wanted to try and do something about it.
So I’m collaborating with a non-profit called Per Scholas, whose mission is to “to open doors to technology careers for individuals from often overlooked communities.”
If food automation is indeed creating newer and better tech-related jobs, then Per Scholas can help companies fill those jobs.
Per Scholas believes a thriving workforce starts with equitable access to education and career opportunities. For more than 25 years, it has provided individuals often excluded from tech careers with skills training, and access to employers. In 2021, Per Scholas will enroll more than 3,000 learners across seventeen cities, including Boston, Chicago, Seattle and Atlanta, placing them in jobs among our 500 corporate partners including Google, Spotify and Capital One.
Companies looking to build their tech teams can visit https://perscholas.org/business/ to learn more.
(Charity Navigator gives Per Scholas four stars)
No-Bot, human-powered recommendations
As noted earlier, at the end of each issue of OttOmate, each week we’ll provide a non-robot-related recommendation for y’all to enjoy.
Since we already brought up pop music, I’m recommending “Watch the Sound with Mark Ronson” on Apple TV+. Yes, it’s on Apple TV+, but you already signed up to watch “Ted Lasso” (I’m a season 2 stan, fight me). While you’re there, check out Ronson’s docu-series on different aspects of song making.
As the name spells out, “Watch the Sound” features super producer Mark Ronson delving deep into different facets of music like auto-tune, distortion, sampling, synthesizers and more — all while talking in a wait-does-he-have-a-British-accent?
The show is informative, entertaining, filled with good music and sometimes mindblowing (the Reverb episode in particular). So go. Watch the Sound.
Did you enjoy this sneak peek at OttOmate? If so, there are two ways you can help!
First, you can forward this issue to a colleague.
Or, even better, become a subscriber to get the full experience.