Amazon is expanding its real presence with another unconventional physical product: a shopping cart. While it certainly looks like an aesthetic upgrade to your standard grocery shopping trolley, the so-called Dash Cart is actually an intelligent version of the proven means of transportation for groceries.
It is equipped with a touchscreen and other various hardware components to automatically detect which items you have put in and how many of these items you have taken off the shelf. When you're done shopping, you can drive the shopping cart through a special lane that digitally checks you out without a human cashier calling you.
The idea builds on Amazon's approach of bringing the comfort it controls in the digital realm into the real world. For years, Amazon has been trying to use all the knowledge gained from the development of Alexa products, including microwaves and wall clocks, and to build a stationary presence through the acquisition of Whole Foods and the growing Amazon Go branch network. These efforts are now leading to hybrid products that combine the digital and the physical, if only in small and experimental bursts.
The dash cart is linked to your Amazon account and tracks the items it contains
The Dash Cart first comes to the Amazon grocery store in the Woodland Hills neighborhood of Los Angeles. The store, which was first confirmed last year, is not an Amazon Go store, meaning there are no cameras, sensors, and other devices built into the ceiling to automatically detect items that you take off the shelves. Instead, this is your normal, everyday grocery store, only it has smart Amazon-made shopping carts that you can use. The store operates for online grocery orders, but the physical space is not yet open to the public. Amazon plans to open the store later this year. The store is part of the network of existing Amazon Whole Foods locations and the larger Amazon Go grocery store that opened in Seattle in February.
It's not clear why Amazon is choosing a more traditional store, with more than two dozen Go stores and a planned second Go grocery store in the Redmond region of Washington in the works. On the one hand, the Go model may be difficult to scale to the size required for a full-service grocery store. The Go Grocery in Seattle is rather small, while the new location in Woodland Hills is reported to be in the place of a former Toys "R" Us, which is sure to be much larger. There is also the data protection question and whether the tracking and monitoring approach of the Go format may not be as tasty as an intelligent shopping cart that a consumer must choose to use.
That said, scaling the cashier-less approach, either from a data protection perspective or from a technical point of view, is a challenge Amazon is trying to overcome, and the car is a challenge that does it in a small and manageable way. Amazon is currently unwilling to use Dash Cart technology beyond simple food travel. The device can therefore hold up to two bags of objects, but not yet a full trolley. That means the Woodland Hills store has standard carts and cash registers for all customers who buy more than the dash cart allows.
Aside from that, Dilip Kumar of Amazon, vice president of the company's physical retail and technology, told The Verge that everything else is a fair game, including products and other foods that aren't in conventional packaging. “(The Dash Cart) has a ring of cameras, a scale, and image processing and weight sensors that can be used to determine not only the article, but also the quantity of the article,” he says. For an item such as an apple, you can use the touchscreen on the cart to enter the item's price lookup code yourself before adding it to the cart to weigh it and add it to your order.
The Dash Cart weighs items and you can enter PLU codes on the touchscreen
The shopping cart processes your order at the end of the trip only because you first logged into your Amazon account on your phone and scanned at the start of the food trip. The shopping cart also has an integrated coupon scanner and supports Amazon's Alexa shopping list function. When you're done shopping, Amazon says you can easily leave the store with special dash cart tracks without making payments or waiting at the checkout.
Amazon doesn't say whether this cart will make it out of the Woodland Hills business, as the company doesn't usually talk about new locations or even future plans to expand its physical grocery store. However, there is a good chance that Amazon will implement this elsewhere if the dash cart is a hit with consumers. For example, it's easy to see how such a device works in a Whole Foods store and shortens check-out times, although it may even wait to use the car itself if it works and is advertised.