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The Wall Street Journal reports that Panasonic has developed a new automated system for convenience stores that scans and bags items, conceivably eliminating the need for checkout personnel.

According to the story, in the Panasonic system "a special shopping basket is designed to detect the merchandise in the basket and calculate the bill. After a customer places the basket in a slot, the bottom of the basket slides out and the merchandise drops into a plastic bag underneath, ready to be carried away. Customers can pay with cash or a card."

The system requires that every SKU carry a special tag.

The unveiling of the system comes just a week after Amazon revealed that it will open a new Amazon Go store in Seattle early next year, using technology that combines computer vision, deep learning algorithms, and sensor fusion "to allow people to walk through the store, with everything they pick up added to their virtual cart. The products are charged to the person's Amazon account on departure from the store." No checkouts, no checkout lines ... and no checkout personnel.

The folks at Panasonic - which is testing the system in a single Japan convenience store - say that this system is not designed to replace store personnel, but rather make the store "a point of communication for neighbors, where customers can enjoy chatting with clerks."
KC's View:
I'm not sold on the idea that such systems are going to create neighborhood back fences across which customers and clerks will share common cause, discoursing on the events of the day. Maybe in Japan, but that's not generally been my experience here in the US.

For better or worse, most retailers are going to use such systems as a way or reducing their labor costs.

I do think there is a difference in how these kinds of systems will affect different kinds of retailers. Supermarkets, which has lots of aisles and categories and more opportunity for meaningful interaction, can use them to redeploy people to where they might make a difference. C-stores, probably less so.

In the end, though, I suspect that we're going to see a lot more of these kinds of technologies in the next couple of years. Probably be all the rage at NRF in 2017, and at the NACS Show, and at NGA.