Amazon is scrapping a service in its grocery stores allowing customers to leave without using a checkout, after recent revelations that it relied on offshore workers monitoring shoppers.

Amazon will phase out its ‘Just Walk Out’ service in Amazon Fresh stores in the US, and replace it with the use of scanners without shopping carts, as The Information reported.

Amazon’s Just Walk Out service claimed to use cameras and sensors to track what customers in its grocery stores were adding to their carts and automatically charge them for these items when they left, meaning they did not have to use a checkout.

This was launched in select Amazon Fresh stores in 2017 and is in use in 40 locations in the US and some stores in the United Kingdom.

The decision will not impact the UK stores and third-party retailers who are using the Just Walk Out technology, including airports, college stores and cafes.

As part of the move, Amazon will be cutting a “few hundred roles” in its cloud computing unit that were overseeing the technology for these physical roles. Another “several hundred roles” will also be lost in Amazon’s AWS sales, marketing and global services unit.

A spokesperson for Amazon said these decisions were “difficult but necessary”, and the company will “continue to invest, hire and optimise resources to deliver innovation for our customers”.

The ‘Just Walk Out’ service will be replaced with Dash Carts, Amazon’s offering involving a scanner and screen embedded in a shopping cart allowing shoppers to log items as they place them into their carts and checkout as they shop.

Self-service checkout counters will also return to the stores for customers who are not Amazon members.

An Amazon spokesperson confirmed to Gizmodo that Dash Carts will be rolled out across the US to replace the Just Walk Out technology.

“We’ve invested a lot of time redesigning a number of our Amazon Fresh stores over the last year, offering a better overall shopping experience with more value, convenience, and selection, and so far we’ve seen positive results, with higher customer shopping satisfaction scores and increased purchasing,” an Amazon spokesperson said.

“We’ve also heard from customers that while they enjoyed the benefit of skipping the checkout line with Just Walk Out, they also wanted the ability to easily find nearby products and deals, view their receipt as they shop, and know how much money they saved while shopping throughout the store.”

Manual monitoring

It was revealed last year that while the Just Walk Out technology appeared to be fully automated, it was still reliant on a team of people who monitored shoppers via cameras to track what they were purchasing.

The technology was complemented by about 1,000 people located in India who watched the stores and labelled videos to ensure the checkout price was accurate, essentially acting as offshore checkout workers.

According to The Information, about 700 out of every 1,000 sales made via Just Walk Out required human reviewers in 2022, far more than Amazon’s target of just 50 per 1,000 sales.

The characterisation of this has been challenged by Amazon.

“The primary role of our machine learning data associates is to annotate video images, which is necessary for continuously improving the underlying machine learning model powering,” an Amazon spokesperson said.

The company has acknowledged that these workers do validate a “small minority” of purchases made by shoppers when the artificial intelligence technology cannot determine what they were buying.

The store of the future

The concept of a checkout-free grocery store had been seen as the “store of the future”, utilising computer vision-enabled cameras, deep learning algorithms and sensor fusion technology.

Customers were able to download an Amazon Fresh app, scan their phone upon entering a store and then start shopping, with items being automatically tracked in a virtual cart, which was charged to their Amazon account when they left.

It came after Amazon acquired US grocery chain Whole Foods for $US13.7 billion in 2017. The Just Walk Out technology is not in use at any Whole Foods stores.

The checkout-free grocery store concept is also being trialled in Australia, with Woolworths launching a pilot in 2018, saying it could “transform the shopping experience”.

This allows Australian customers to scan items on the Woolworths smartphone app and then automatically pay for them when they leave the supermarket, bypassing self-service checkouts entirely.

This trial was expanded by Woolworths in 2022.

But earlier this year Woolworths revealed it was ending a similar service in New Zealand that was in use across 15 stores.

Workers in New Zealand had referred to the service as “scam and go” due to shoppers often being able to pay for less than what they were putting in the trolleys.