Upstart AiFi promises checkout-free store ‘orders of magnitude’ bigger than Amazon Go
Amazon might want to be on its guard. Just a few weeks after launching its Amazon Go checkout-free brick-and-mortar store concept, the company already has potential competition in convenience innovation. The challenger, Santa Clara, Calif.-based AiFi, a self-described “computer vision technology company,” said Tuesday it has created a scalable checkout-free solution for stores of any size. AiFi has teased a pending rollout with a major retailer on a scale CEO Steve Gu said would be “orders of magnitude bigger than the Amazon Go store.”
“Consumers and businesses alike want to be efficient and with a checkout-free store, consumers have an incredible shopping experience,” Gu said. “The shopping experience now demonstrated and widely promoted by Amazon is just the tiniest taste of what the AiFi technology will do for retailers — with shops that range from tiny to huge.”
AiFi’s concept uses artificial intelligence, sensor and camera networks and an integrated system to make a checkout-free experience possible for any retailer, the company said. AiFi said that its solution combines AI algorithms that can track people in real-time and recognize actions and products with a camera technology that it said can adapt to a large store or a small corner store. Systems in AiFi’s solution continuously track shoppers in-store, recognizing them as they make their way through the aisles — even recognizing people shopping together as a group. As with Amazon Go, with AiFi’s technology, shoppers can walk out the store and be charged for what they pick up without standing in a checkout line.
According to Gu, Americans spent roughly 37 billion hours in line last year, during which more than 90% of retail sales came from physical stores. The new focus for retailers is convenience for shoppers and increased inventory management capabilities for retailers. AiFI’s technology can recognize tens of thousands of SKU item numbers based on AI, the company said, noting that once installed with no major retrofitting, it offers retailers inventory management data and insights into shopping behavior and preferences.
Once it rolls out at the end of the year, AiFi will highlight that a retailer doesn’t need to have Amazon’s scale to deliver on convenience, Gu said.
“Because our technology is massively scalable, tens of thousands of stores worldwide can become a ‘grab-and-go’ type of retailer,” he said. “Our solution helps stores run more efficiently and provides customers with a better shopping experience. Run in, grab what you need and continue on with your day. Easier for shoppers and more insights and real-time statistics for stores so they can better serve their customers and manage overall operations.”
Report: MedExpress, Walgreens pilots grow to 15 locations
The coupling of UnitedHealth Group’s MedExpress urgent care centers to select Walgreens locations has grown to 15 locations, according to a Forbes report published last week.
“We have about a dozen or so locations that we brought online throughout 2017 and that was really to see whether not a retail side of service, in this case with Walgreens, would be an attractive venue for care delivery,” David Wichmann, CEO UnitedHealth Group, told shareholders in January. “The results are not near final but we’re hoping that our MedExpress surgical care model with an adjunct pharmacy performs as good or better than without, meaning that we can provide more convenient service to consumers at a lower cost and with very, very high levels of quality as MedExpress. … This is just part of developing an overall higher performing local health systems. So it [would] just be one component that’s maybe nested inside a local care delivery market with ambulatory surgical capacities and house calls and things of that nature.”
“It makes sense from a customer and patient point of view that you can go in and get yourselves sorted, when you have an accident or when you need a medical or something of that type, which is what MedExpress does,” Alex Gourlay, co-COO Walgreens Boots Alliance, told shareholders in a separate conference call. “In terms of the clinics, we’re really pleased with the partnerships we’ve got there. They are local, which is important to the health systems. We are providing different services depending on what we want to do and what the local needs are, and it fits really well into Walgreens’ brand [identity].”
The most recent MedExpress Urgent Care centers debuted last month in the Las Vegas market, which also marked the first MedExpress locations in Nevada. Conveniently connected to Walgreens, the MedExpress neighborhood medical centers offer patients walk-in treatment for urgent care, employer health services and basic wellness and prevention.
“MedExpress is a resource for busy families and employers that need timely access to affordable, high-quality health care close to home and work,” Fred Hinz, regional vice president, MedExpress, said. “We put each patient at the center of everything we do and focus on exceeding expectations by providing the best possible experience. Being connected to Walgreens will enable our patients to receive quality care and purchase any other items they need, all in one trip.”
“For now, the effort between the Optum healthcare provider unit of the nation’s largest health insurer and the nation’s largest drugstore chain is a pilot project. But the venture is creating buzz among investors as rival pharmacy chain CVS Health has promised primary care pilots of its own after it completes its $69 billion acquisition of Aetna, the nation’s third-largest health insurer,” wrote Bruce Japsen, Forbes contributor.
Each neighborhood medical center has a separate entrance and multiple exam rooms, a procedure room and an X-ray suite. In addition to offering treatment for everyday illnesses and injuries, MedExpress provides health services for local employers, including workers’ compensation injuries, injury care, pre- and ongoing employment screenings, physicals and regulatory exams. Basic wellness and prevention services include physicals, immunizations and other services to help patients maintain good health.
The centers are staffed by a full medical team that includes nurses, medical providers, radiologic technologists and customer service representatives.
Forbes reported there are 15 locations in six states that have MedExpress urgent care centers connected to Walgreens stores as part of the pilot. The markets include Las Vegas, Dallas, Minneapolis, Omaha, Neb., two cities in West Virginia and Martinsville, Va.
New York offers flu shot vouchers at Walgreens, Duane Reade
The Health Department in New York City on Monday collaborated with Walgreens and Duane Reade pharmacies on an offer of 1,000 vouchers for flu shots at specific pharmacy locations located in areas with high rates of people without health insurance and low flu vaccination rates. The initiative was made possible by the Mayor’s Office of Strategic Partnerships.
“Our surveillance has shown that influenza activity remains elevated throughout the city, and expanding access to this potentially life-saving vaccine is one more step we can take to ensure New Yorkers remain healthy,” New York City Health Commissioner Mary Bassett said. “I thank our partners at Walgreens for working with us on this vital issue. The flu shot remains the safest and most effective way to protect yourself and your neighbors from the influenza virus. Flu season is not over, and I urge New Yorkers to get vaccinated as soon as possible.”
“We’re proud to be working with the New York City Department of Health on this initiative,” said Tony Riso, regional healthcare director, Walgreens. “By providing access to flu shots at no cost for those who are eligible, we can help protect the health and wellbeing of our community members and prevent the further spread of influenza this season.”
As the city and the country continue to see elevated influenza activity, the Health Department is reminding all New Yorkers to get their annual flu shot so they are protected against the influenza virus and its severe symptoms and complications. A flu shot, administered even after influenza season has arrived, can still provide protection and mitigate the symptoms and complications should one contract the virus.
The flu vouchers are available on a first come, first served basis while supplies last, and will allow uninsured and underinsured individuals to receive the flu vaccine at no cost. The vaccine is subject to availability, and age, state and health related restrictions may apply. The vouchers are available for New Yorkers 7 years of age and older who do not have health insurance. This voucher is being offered at 11 Walgreens and Duane Reade locations in the five boroughs.
Preliminary data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicates that the vaccine can prevent about 59% of influenza cases in young children (ages six months to eight years), and overall, it can prevent about one-third of cases.