Panasonic unveils automated store checkout machine

Dive Brief:

  • Panasonic, with the help of a convenience store chain in its native Japan, has demonstrated an automated store checkout machine that can scan and bag items without human assistance, The Wall Street Journal reports.
  • Deployed at an Osaka location of the Lawson convenience store chain, the Panasonic system uses a shopping basket that can detect the merchandise placed in it, calculating the bill with each item added. When it comes time to check out, the basket is placed into a slot that allows the bottom of the basket to open and empty the contents into a plastic bag directly below.

  • Panasonic and Lawson said they plan to implement the automated checkout technology more widely in the next two years, though they also made clear that they are not looking to completely eliminate human clerks from such stores.

Dive Insight:

This announcement comes right on the heels of the announcement of Amazon Go, what is essentially an automated grocery store, with no checkout process and direct payment via mobile app. Panasonic's effort may sound like its piggybacking, but the Japanese company clearly has been working on its own automated checkout machine for a while.

The machine seemed to garner mixed reviews from visitors to the Lawson location where it was demonstrated, which sort of sums up the debate around current self-checkout systems, which have never completely caught on, their attempts at precision somewhat marred by the difficulties people sometimes have using them. But what Panasonic is talking about goes further than current self-checkout into the realm of fully automated checkout, and what could be easier than that?

Still, it's not a concept that is going to prove popular with a certain segment of the workforce. Panasonic and Lawson are trying to be careful about saying they don't want to eliminate store clerk jobs, and that clerks would still have a role interfacing with customers, but if this system isn't going to replace a store clerk, then why have it at all? What's the return on investment, if not the money saved that had been spent on salaries?

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