Whole Foods Launching ‘Just Walk Out’ In Test Stores

By Roger Dooley, Contributor

Amazon is opening two Whole Foods stores that will let customers skip the checkout line. The same ‘Just Walk Out’ technology used in their Amazon Go stores will be implemented in a pair of stores opening in Washington, D.C. and Sherman Oaks, California. Items added to shoppers’ carts are identified and added to their total using computer vision and scanners.

(Photo by Robert Alexander/Getty Images) Getty Images

Shoppers will simply by scan their Whole Foods or Amazon mobile app, or even their palm, on entering or leaving the store. Other payment options include cash, gift cards, EBT and eWic.

Culture Clash?

Amazon notes that customers can still check out manually, but by using self-checkout lanes. Apparently, human cashiers won’t be an option. But, they say, the automated stores will employ a similar number of people. Instead of manning checkout lines, employees will be able to interact with and help customers throughout the store.

According to John Mackey, co-founder and CEO of Whole Foods, the new stores will provide an “effortless, convenient new way to shop at Whole Foods Market.”

Amazon and Whole Foods have fundamentally different approaches to customer interaction. I’ve placed dozens of orders on Amazon.com in the last year. I’ve returned a few of those, and had to solve minor problems with a few others. Despite my somewhat alarming level of shopping activity during that period, I have never had to interact with a human at Amazon.

Amazon’s systems are designed to minimize customer effort, and that includes having to interact with their employees.

I’ve also shopped frequently at a nearby Whole Foods. There, the staff are a key part of the experience. I’m thinking of the fishmonger who gives you the exact cut of salmon you want and offers helpful tips on preparation... the bartender in the pub who can comment on the style and origin of the two dozen craft beers on offer... even the friendly cashiers who are always willing to exchange a few words as they check you out.

There need be no conflict with the Whole Foods customer experience if automating the checkout process isn’t used simply to cut costs by reducing headcount. Indeed, if employees are deployed to other functions throughout the store, the experience could actually improve. Even with friendly cashiers, few customers would regret not having a manual checkout process.

Behavior Design

Offering only self-checkout as an alternative to the automated process seems to fit the Amazon style of customer experience more than that of Whole Foods.

Amazon knows that people will tend to choose the path that requires the least effort, and removing a human checkout option is one way to steer their behavior. Customers will no doubt gravitate to the less effortful automated process to avoid manually scanning each item, dealing with balky bar codes, etc.

Once customers are used to bypassing the checkout process, the conventional supermarket experience will seem overly effortful to many of them.

Frictionless Shopping

As early as 1998, Jeff Bezos was talking about “frictionless shopping.” His approach to making things easy for customers led to Amazon’s disruptive growth and dominance in e-commerce. The company he founded, it seems, is extending that concept even to Whole Foods’ high-touch, premium grocery experience.


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