Though retailers have been experimenting with frictionless as a means of competing with Amazon, Ahold-Delhaize USA is approaching the concept from a new angle. Retail Business Services, the division of the retailer in charge of the project, plans on selling the cashierless technology rather than creating a chain of their own stores. The current pilot is called Lunchbox, and is housed in RBS’s Massachusetts headquarters.
At the beginning of January, RBS opened a second store—this time much larger. The pilot in the Quincy headquarters is only 150 square feet, but its successor is a 500-square-foot “Lunchbox” at a Giant Food Stores distribution center in Pennsylvania. In this article, we compare the features of Ahold’s Lunchbox and Amazon Go to see how frictionless retail technology will expand in the future.
Amazon Go is famous for its grab-and-go simplicity, and they are closer to a traditional convenience store in the products they carry. The stores have selections for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and a large assortment of snacks. However, Amazon Go is mainly limited to food products. Ads for the retailer’s frictionless stores feature sandwiches, salads, and healthy fare–seemingly a tech-forward and healthy alternative to convenience stores.
Lunchbox, on the other hand, is more flexible at the moment (despite the name). While Amazon’s tracking technology could be used for products other than food, Amazon Go stores are directly competing with small-format food stores and their selection reflects this focus. RBS, by acting as a service provider, lets retail partners choose their selections. The latest lunchbox at the Giant Food Stores distribution center is an alternative to a regular cafeteria, but the concept can be expanded to any product.
RBS’s scaleable tech and assortment resembles Stockwell, an earlier hands-free retail concept where the company would sell storage cases for clients to restock. These storage cases are locked and open once a customer purchases an item inside using the proprietary app. Because the assortment is tailored to a specific apartment building or similar space, there are infinite possibilities for varied products. RBS’s Lunchbox concept takes this business model and applies it to purchase-tracking cameras, making for unique frictionless shopping experience.
Because most of Amazon Go’s stores are in high-traffic public areas, they have limited hours. For example, the San Francisco Post Street location is normally open from 7 AM to 8 PM on weekdays, 9 AM to 6 PM on Saturday, and closed on Sundays. The reason? This Amazon Go store is inside the Crocker Galleria, a shopping mall that closes every Sunday. Every location has hours that resemble the Post Street store, and Amazon Go is far from replacing convenience stores entirely. The large amount of traffic makes it necessary for the store to have employees monitoring and helping customers.
RBS’s Lunchbox is open 24 hours a day, with the caveat that the two locations mainly serve Ahold and RBS employees. One store is in RBS headquarters and the other is in a Giant Food Stores hub; we have yet to see how Lunchbox will adjust to more public locations.
Both Amazon Go and Lunchbox use weighted shelves, scan-for-entry apps, and camera tracking, but the specifics of each are more secretive. RBS boasts an Intel partnership that powers the tracking technology, which relies on skeletal movement. Neither retailer currently uses facial recognition technology.
Before Amazon Go opened, there were some minor technological hiccups like difficulty tracking multiple bodies, but the sensors have greatly improved since then with the help of store employees and Amazon’s expansive data collection process. Because Lunchbox has two stores and less traffic than Amazon Go, it’s unclear whether these improvements have been applied to all tracking technology.
Lunchbox has the added benefit of being quick to open: RBS can deploy a store in as little as six weeks. By focusing on technology instead of store experience, there are unlimited possibilities for the format. However, these stores are currently thriving in controlled environments where the customers are employees. The concept is scaleable to several thousand square feet, but as a service provider RBS will be limited to needs of their retail partners.
In comparison, Amazon Go operates 25 stores and is looking to add more in the future. Though the retailer faced a setback with New York’s ruling on cash, Amazon is currently renovating two stores and building a sixth Seattle location. The abundance of alternatives and competitors to Amazon Go’s frictionless concept shows that retailers are increasingly interested in the technology. From micro-stores like Ahold’s Lunchbox to Sam’s Club Now, cashierless shopping is a new way of looking at traditional brick and mortar shopping–and a new way of attracting busy customers.
For more information on scaleable cashierless technology, you can read our review of Sam’s Club Now in Dallas here. For more on the future of retail tech in general, including agent-based shopping, you can watch our video on the subject here.