Grocery chain Giant Eagle launches checkout-free system in Pittsburgh-area store

Grabango, the startup behind Giant Eagle's new system, says the launch marks the first time an existing retail store in the US has been retrofitted with AI-powered tech that eliminates the need to wait in a checkout line.

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Giant Eagle, a grocery chain with more than 400 stores across five states, is launching an AI-powered platform on Tuesday in one of its Pittsburgh-area stores that will let shoppers skip the checkout line. The system, powered by the startup Grabango, is going live in Giant Eagle's GetGo Café+Market store in Fox Chapel, Pennsylvania. 

While checkout-free technology isn't exactly new -- Amazon's "Just Walk Out" technology has powered its cashier-less Amazon Go stores since 2016 -- Grabango says Tuesday's launch marks the first time this kind of platform has been deployed in an existing store in the US. Grabango installed its computer vision system with no interruptions to store operations, and the platform operates with the store's pre-existing planogram and merchandise mix. 

As Grabango CEO Will Glaser explained to ZDNet earlier this year, the Grabango system is built for large chains that want to retrofit their existing stores. That can mean deploying sensors in stores over 100,000 square feet in size and creating computer vision models that recognize tens of thousands of unique SKUs. 

The Giant Eagle GetGo where the checkout-free system is launching on Tuesday is a 3,000 square-foot convenience store. Giant Eagle also has plans to soon roll out the Grabango system at a Giant Eagle Market District store (100,000 square feet) in the Pittsburgh metro area. 

"We're excited to bring checkout-free technology to our Pittsburgh area shoppers," Giant Eagle CEO Laura Karet said in a statement. "With Grabango, our GetGo guests are able to get in, get out and get going even faster with a more convenient, contactless, shopping experience. We look forward to success at our Fox Chapel GetGo and to rolling out more Grabango-powered convenience and grocery stores in the near future."

To use the checkout-free system, shoppers download the free Grabango app from the Apple App Store or the Google Play Store. They enter a Grabango-equipped store as they normally would and shop as usual. The store's sensors track which items a shopper picks up. Shoppers then scan a code in the Grabango app on their way out to receive a digital receipt. 

The startup stresses that its computer vision system does not use facial recognition. 

Back in April, Glaser said that the COVID-19 pandemic has underscored the value of a checkout-free system. 

"Stores are getting harder to run," he said. "Keeping people in line and maintaining social distancing while they're standing in lines that are longer than they've been is really a challenge."