Amazon’s bringing its Just Walk Out cashier-free payment system to parts of the Houston Astros stadium. When the service launches this year, Minute Maid Park’s (formerly Enron Field) 41,000-capacity stadium will stand out as one of the biggest testing grounds yet for Amazon’s quickly growing payment service. It will also give the Astros a glitzy, high-tech distraction to help the team try and turn the page on the team’s cheating and sign stealing past.
Astros visitors will be able use the service at two stores within the stadium where they can buy an assortment of souvenirs, snacks, soda, and ready-to-go booze sometime during the 2022 season. Real fans can even reportedly buy whole bottles of wine at one of the stores, all without enduring the shame of a disapproving cashier. Sorry teens, you’ll reportedly still have to show an ID to buy alcohol at the Just Walk Out store.
To use the service, visitors insert their credit cards at one of the store’s entry gates. From there, Amazon’s system of monitoring cameras, sensors, and AI should automatically detect what the customers take off the shelves. The visitors are automatically charged once they leave the store.
Astros and Amazon execs seem as obsessed with eliminating lines as Astros players were with other teams’ hand signs. In a press release, Houston Astros Senior Vice President of Business Operations Marcel Braithwaite, said the team wanted to provide a way for fans to spend less time in lines and more time actually watching the game. Dilip Kumar, Amazon’s Vice President of Physical Retail and Technology said, “We’re thrilled to help eliminate checkout lines for fans when they need to refuel during games and between innings.” Here’s to hoping no AI-equipped cameras get installed anywhere near the opposing teams.
The Astros’ deal marks one of the most significant partnerships for Amazon since it revealed Just Walk Out in 2016. Amazon previously partnered with Hudson to bring its technology to select small retail stores in Dallas Love Field and Chicago Midway Airport. Last year, Amazon incorporated Just Walk Out in its first full-size Fresh-branded grocery store. That served as test grounds of sorts, with Amazon eventually adding the service to a Washington D.C. Whole Foods earlier this year. The company has plans to expand the service throughout its network of over 500 Whole Foods stores.
If Amazon has its way, Just Walk Out will become a payment staple throughout a wide range of retail stores not just limited to Amazon-owned entities. The ecommerce giant has already partnered with Starbucks to bring the technology to one store in New York City, with plans to incorporate it elsewhere.
If you begrudgingly get over the fact that customers are wilfully ceding ever more payment and behavioural data over to Amazon, sports stadiums actually make a good deal sense for automated transactions. Like airports, most of the goods sold at a stadium’s stories are relatively small, pre-packaged and ready to go. Baseball fans are also hanging around the stadium for hours, providing ample time for someone to cave and open their wallet for popcorn or a Snickers bar.
Whether or not baseball fans will actually use the technology remains less clear. According to a 2021 Bizrate Insights survey cited by eMarketer, just 26% of U.S. consumers said they had previously used cashierless checkout technology. Another 43% said they had not used the tech but were interested in it. Like other automated systems, cashier-less technology made some major inroads in 2020, driven partly by a pandemic-induced fear of physical contact. Amazon’s betting that’s indicative of a larger trend rather than a brief fad.
There’s a potentially creepier aspect to all of this though. In addition to Just Walk Out, Amazon’s simultaneously working on a biometric based system called “Amazon One.” For this system, Amazon scans the patterns and veins of customers’ palms and then links that to their credit cards. Once signed up, users simply use their hands to enter stores and make purchases without ever reaching for their wallets. While Amazon One’s rollout has been slower than Just Walk Out, the company made inroads last year with the launch of the technology at The Red Rocks Amphitheatre in Denver.