As of Monday, some downtown San Francisco customers have been helping themselves to bottles of kombucha and pouches of chips at a new, “no-checkout” convenience store — and it’s not Amazon Go.
Zippin, with $2.7 million in venture capital backing, has opened the first San Francisco competitor to Amazon’s cashier-less stores, whose three local locations have introduced SF customers to the concept of a business without a checkout register. Instead, sensors track what customers take, and software bills them electronically.
Located in a clean white space at 215 Fremont Street, Suite 1, with cafe table seating in the back, Zippin stocks typical corner store items: Bottled drinks, chips, and bars, plus boxed salads and sandwiches a la Pret A Manger. The business opened on June 10 after several months of redevelopment: It debuted for demo testing last year, but is now open to the public with regular hours.
Zippin’s technology, like that developed for Amazon Go, lets customers check into a store with a proprietary app, grab what they wish, then leave without being rung up at a register. Zippin’s cameras and a series of shelf weight sensors trace customers’ purchases and bill them accordingly. Zippin, like Amazon Go, will also accept cash, as the store must according to newly approved local law.
But rather than challenge Amazon Go head on, Zippin hopes to compete with the retail Goliath more indirectly. As a company vice president Alice Chan explains, Zippin sells its checkout-free technology to would-be Amazon Go competitors.
“We don’t want to be a retailer opening a lot of stores, but our goal is to power other retailers,” Chan explains. In technical terms, it’s a SaaS provider: Software as a service. Zippin’s technology could fuel kiosks at airports, existing stores like grab-and-go salad and sandwich shops., and even larger, big-box retailers some day.
“Amazon is developing for Amazon,” says Chan. ‘We’re here to help every other retailer.”
Cashier-less stores still require human supervision, and Chan emphasizes that Zippin’s goal isn’t to put a corner store worker out of a job. That concern was voiced loudly and clearly when a company called Bodega introduced a would-be, automated bodega killer. (That business has since rebranded.)
Still, says Chan, “we certainly want to be able to relieve humans of very manual, painstaking and not very interesting tasks, and make sure consumers are actually getting what they want.” That includes duties with which humans often struggle, such as inventory, using just pens and clipboards. Zippin touts its ability to automatically re-order items, tailoring its inventory to customer demand using artificial intelligence.
Zippin is now open from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. from Monday through Friday.