Amazon Fresh Opens First Alexa-Powered Grocery Store, Debuts Dash Carts to Automate Check-Out
Amazon’s Alexa is at the center of the first Amazon Fresh grocery store. The Woodland Hills, California location opened this week for invited guests in a kind of real-world beta, with the voice assistant answering questions from Echo Show smart display kiosks and connecting to the new Amazon Dash Carts in the store.
Amazon’s voice assistant and smart devices are ubiquitous in the store. Echo Shows in kiosks will answer questions about where items are located or for suggestions on what to make for a meal. The devices are specialized in their topic, but still include the full Alexa AI, albeit not personalized to a specific user. That’s where the new Dash Cart comes into play. Amazon has augmented shopping carts with smart technology that reads a QR code to connect to a customer’s Alexa shopping list, displaying it on the embedded screen. The cart is packed with sensors to “see” and identify what the shopper puts in the basket and totaling up the cost as the shopper walks around. When they are ready to leave, the store’s checkout aisles include a lane for Dash Carts, which will scan what the cart says is in the basket and process payment through whatever card is linked to the customer’s Amazon account.
Limiting the need for human interaction is particularly appealing at the moment. The ongoing COVID-19 health crisis limits operations for grocery stores, and cutting down on in-person interactions reduces risks even when every other precaution is observed. Amazon is taking a page from its Whole Foods subsidiary to create safety guidelines. Employees get temperature checks every day, everyone inside must wear a mask, with disposable ones available to customers, and the store will operate at half capacity to limit crowding. The store also includes pick-up and delivery options for those who don’t want to go inside.
The Dash Cart began development before the pandemic as a way to streamline shopping, coincidentally arriving at a time when fast, contactless check-out has health benefits in addition to convenience. Despite the identical name and very similar function, Amazon told Voicebot that the Dash Cart is not part of the same brand as the now-retired Dash Wand and Dash Buttons. The Buttons and Wand were sold as tools for taking friction out of shopping from home, before they were superseded by new features in the Echo Show smart display, including a barcode reader and more sophisticated cameras that can identify products. Separate genesis notwithstanding, Dash Cart brings similar benefits to a new context, shifting from home consumers to a service businesses can offer to customers. The Dash Cart is only in the Amazon Fresh store right now, but the company hints at plans to sell or lease them to other grocery stores in the future.