Amazon Abandons “Just Walk Out” Cashier System

April 5, 2024

In 2016, the e-commerce giant Amazon began opening brick and mortar grocery stores called Amazon Fresh. Some of these locations came equipped with a much touted technological feature: “Just Walk Out” checkouts, where customers would simply stroll through the exit without consulting a cashier. The idea was that a customer logged in to their Amazon account before shopping, gathered their items, and then a sophisticated process driven by artificial intelligence would quickly ring up everything. 

But as it turns out, this system was too good to be true. Amazon recently announced plans to eliminate Just Walk Out from its grocery stores, and while doing so the company revealed how the process actually worked. Instead of a fancy AI algorithm, many transactions were rung up by more than 1,000 cashiers working remotely in India, who diligently added up each item obtained by customers. So rather than robotic sensors, many shoppers were actually being watched closely by real people tracking their movements through the store. 

While Amazon’s AI capabilities could identify some products shown on video, the company still relied on humans to make sure everything added up correctly. “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,” said an Amazon spokesperson. Customers often waited hours to receive receipts for their purchases as offshore cashiers frantically reviewed and rewatched store videos. Additionally, the elaborate system of sensors and cameras required for Just Walk Out was incredibly expensive to maintain, giving Amazon further reason to ditch this once-promising idea.


  1. How did Amazon’s Just Walk Out system work, and why did Amazon discontinue it?
  2. Do you think other AI operations similarly depend on human operators like Amazon’s Just Walk Out system? Why or why not?

Source: Maxwell Zeff, “Amazon Ditches ‘Just Walk Out’ Checkouts at Its Grocery Stores,” Gizmodo, April 3, 2024. Photo by Ted Eytan.