Shariq Siddiqui and Umer Sadiq thought Amazon Go was amazing. While the longtime Amazon employees didn’t work specifically on the company’s grocery tech concept, they were one of the first to test it out when the Amazon Go convenience store debuted in Seattle three years ago.
They also saw an opportunity. The technology that powered the “just walk out” experience was expensive and would be difficult to implement in larger grocery stores where most Americans shop to fill their kitchen.
So Siddiqui and Sadiq took the startup leap in 2018, teaming up with former Google computer vision scientist Faisal Shifayat to launch Veeve, a new Seattle company that is coming out of stealth mode this week.
Veeve is building technology to improve the grocery shopping experience, much like Amazon and a flurry of other startups aiming for a piece of the $800 billion U.S. grocery market. Companies ranging from long-time grocers to tech startups are testing a multitude of new tech-powered services, from online delivery to automated checkout.
But instead of installing high-tech cameras in the ceilings and weight sensors on the shelves, as Amazon does for Amazon Go, Veeve has developed a smart shopping cart that enables a cashier-less experience for shoppers. It could appeal to large format stores run by companies in search of cost-efficient strategies to keep customers coming into physical locations, particularly as competitors — including Amazon-owned Whole Foods — invest heavily in delivery services.
The 5-person startup just launched the technology with a Seattle-area grocer and is in talks with another company in Dubai. It is at the GroceryShop conference in Las Vegas this week to show off the concept for the first time. Veeve has raised investment from an undisclosed investor.
Here’s how the Veeve-enabled shopping experience works. Customers enter a store, grab one of the company’s smart carts, and scan a QR code with their phone. This lets the store recognize the individual shopper; he or she can see past purchases, recommended products, and personalized deals based off loyalty programs. It’s a critical part of the process that could mean a mass of new data for retailers to use and harvest.
“Instead of check out, let’s focus on check in,” Siddiqui told GeekWire in an interview.
The on-cart screen provides directions for products in the store. Sensors and cameras in the cart identify products and adds each to the bill as they are placed inside. A built-in scale measures and calculates the cost of produce. The cart knows when an item has been removed and updates the receipt in real-time. A barcode scanner can be used if the computer vision fails.
Other features include an online ordering system if a product is not available in-store; a system that notifies sales associates when help is needed, like verifying age for alcohol purchases; as well as security-related tech that prevents theft.
When it’s time to leave, customers swipe their credit card and simply walk out of the store as the payment processes.
“Imagine all the tech that goes into the Amazon Go ceilings — it’s all miniaturized and put into a cart,” Siddiqui said. “That allows us to change the model completely.”
Siddiqui, who previously sold a startup to BMW Interactive before joining Amazon in 2010, knows there are a bevy of competitors building similar technologies. But he and his team think their smart shopping cart will be a differentiator.
“[Amazon Go] may work for a convenience store strategy, but it just won’t scale for large stores, especially where the ceiling is so high and the square footage is massive,” he said. “The cart solution works way better — the cost is way lower.”
Since opening its first store to the public in January 2018, Amazon has announced or opened 16 Amazon Go stores in 17 months. At that pace the company won’t come close to the 3,000 stores it reportedly considered growing to by 2021.
Amazon is building a larger grocery store in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood with 10,400 square feet of space, according to recent permit filings.
Other giants including Microsoft, which has inked deals with companies such as Walmart and Kroger, are investing in grocery-related technology. Sam’s Club and Giant Eagle are testing cashierless experiences inside their stores.
Last week GeekWire reported on Swiftly, another Seattle grocery tech startup that just raised cash for its operating system for brick and mortar stores. Ava Retail, also in the Seattle region, has rolled out its services inside WeWork locations and collaborates with Microsoft, Intel, and Mastercard. Other cashierless-tech startups include Standard Cognition; Vcognition Technologies; Grabango; AiFi; Caper; and Trigo, which announced a $22 million round on Monday.