As cashiers across the country take precautions to limit interactions with customers in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, it's hard to think of a better time for the rollout of an Amazon Go vision of autonomous retail.
Standard Cognition CEO Jordan Fisher has been building towards that future for the past several years. His startup has raised over $86 million from investors like CRV, Initialized Capital and Y Combinator to compete with Amazon and create a system for building and retrofitting a new generation of retail experiences where consumers can walk into a store, pick up their items and walk out of the store without physically checking out. In the midst of the pandemic, the early technology is getting renewed attention though the tech isn't widespread enough to make an impact yet.
"It's unfortunate that the industry is where it's at today, I wish that we were five years ahead to be much more widely deployed and be able to actually make a major difference on these risk profiles," Fisher told TechCrunch. "But I think we're going to be thinking with a COVID mentality for years to come. This is definitely piece of investing for the future to make sure that we're opening up our retail world in as safe a way as possible."
As Standard Cognition prepares to scale in a world more amenable to skipping checkout, the San Francisco startup is making international movement, acquiring a competitor based in Italy called Checkout Technologies for an undisclosed sum. The startup is tackling a lot of the same problems that Fisher's team was working on; this acquisition brings Checkout's talent, tech and partnerships to Standard Cognition.
A graphic showcasing Checkout’s technology to detect anomalies in real-time on store shelves, such as misplaced products (red) or shelves that may be blocked (blue).
Fisher said the two teams had been communicating since the middle of last year and that COVID-19, which struck Italy particularly hard, had "added complications" to wrapping up the deal, though he says they were in final diligence stage by the time the pandemic had fully reared its head.
"There’s going to be consolidation in the autonomous checkout space," Fisher says. "We’ve always been interested in being international because there are specific retailers we're interested in."
The Italian startup had a partnership with a "top 150 retailer" in Italy, Fisher says, which Standard Cognition will continue to work with. Checkout Technologies' 13-person team will stay put in their Milan offices as Standard Cognition continues to look for opportunities in that market.
On the international front, Standard Cognition has also detailed plans to roll out its tech in Japan, which Fisher frames as an ideal market for the technology based on consumer habits around visiting convenience stores. Stateside, the startup says they're currently working on multiple retrofits to bring their tech to existing storefronts and that they've also landed a partnership with the Worcester Red Sox to showcase their tech in the baseball team's new stadium.