Cashier-less Store Still a Work in Progress

At San Francisco’s first fully automated store, a news reporter tests the system and scores a free bag of white cheddar popcorn.

September 17, 2018

SAN FRANCISCO – Nellie Bowles, a technology writer for the New York Times, recently visited Standard Market, San Francisco’s first completely automated, cashier-less new store.

Shoppers simply download the store’s app, enter the 1,900-square-foot space, take the merchandise they want and leave. There is no check-in gate. There is no checkout swipe. The ceiling has 27 cameras that identify the shopper and the items and determine when said items leave with said shopper.

The start-up behind the store is Standard Cognition, which has raised $11.2 million in venture capital and formed partnerships with four retail chains around the world. Standard Market is a prototype designed to showcase the technology and work out any bugs.

Unlike stores that rely on radio-frequency identification tags and a self-checkout process that involves scanning a code or a face, Standard Cognition’s approach relies exclusively on the ceiling cameras and artificial intelligence software to figure out what customers buy.

The cameras document shoppers’ movements, speed, stride length and gaze. The goal is to predict, and prevent, shoplifting, because unlike Amazon’s Go stores, which have a subway turnstile-like gate for entry and exit, Standard Market has an open door, and the path is clear.

“We learn behaviors of what it looks like to leave,” said Michael Suswal, Standard Cognition’s co-founder and COO. Trajectory, gaze and speed are useful for detecting theft, he said, adding, “If they’re going to steal, their gait is larger, and they’re looking at the door.”

Once the system detects potential theft behavior, a store attendant receives a text and walks over for “a polite conversation,” Suswal said.

Predicting theft requires a lot of data about shoppers, much of which does not exist yet—“or at least no one is willing to give it to us,” he said.

On a recent Friday, Yoshimasa Takahashi, 32, walked out of the store, and a receipt popped up on his phone. It said he’d bought noodles and Kraft Macaroni & Cheese—except, he didn’t buy the last item.

“I was playing with it but didn’t take it out,” Takahashi said, smiling at his win over the technology. The Standard Market assistant at the door gave him a refund.

The writer opened her own phone, which flashed blue, letting the store know she had entered. She wandered, threw items into her tote and then left. Outside, a notification popped up on her phone with her receipt: one white Cheddar popcorn and one roll of toilet paper for a total of $1.19.

Actually, she’d left with two bags of popcorn. She had toyed with the second bag, put it back and finally took it with a quick impulsive grab. The system missed it.

“That shouldn’t happen,” Suswal said.

No doubt the technology of Standard Cognition and other cashier-less stores will improve and eventually detect where that snack went, and customer movements will be considered and predicted by artificial intelligence’s endless data maw, the reporter concluded.