Frictionless shopping is one of those topics that dominates the retail landscape, and it’s easy to see why. When Amazon rolled out Amazon GO stores in 2018, industry watchers were fascinated with a seamless shopping experience that makes it possible for people to waltz into an Amazon GO store, retrieve their purchases from a shelf, and sail out the door without needing to stand in a check-out line. All it takes is an easy swipe of your mobile phone on entry. Then, Amazon made the technology available at Whole Foods outlets, which Amazon owns. And, when the Covid-19 pandemic hit, the idea of quickly entering a store and leaving without needing to interact with people became more appealing. Now Amazon is taking the experience to a whole new level with Amazon One palm recognition technology. With Amazon One, we may soon be living completely frictionless lives.

Palm recognition is an attractive alternative to facial recognition software, which promised to make it easier for people to verify their identities and prevent fraud and impersonation. But the facial recognition technology has also raised concerns about its ethical use. With companies such as Facebook dropping the use of the controversial technology, more attention is being paid to the technology that Amazon One uses for people to verify their identities and make purchase by using the palms of their hands.

Amazon One has been in development for a few years. The technology could help usher in a friction-free world without the ethical issues associated with people having their faces scanned. Since Amazon launched Amazon One in 2020, the company has been rolling out the technology to other businesses.

How Amazon One Works

People follow a two-step process to enroll in the Amazon One program. First, they insert their credit card into an Amazon One device. Then they hold their palm above the device to allow Amazon to create a unique palm signature. The palm print is linked to the credit card.

After that, an Amazon One customer makes purchases by entering a store enabled by Amazon One and waving their hand over a scanner at checkout. The consumer’s card is automatically billed for the items in her shopping cart. Consumers can also link their Amazon account to Amazon One, allowing them to manage their account and see their purchase history online. 

Image Source: Amazon

Amazon One relies on palm prints because each person’s palm is unique. As Amazon said on its blog, “No two palms are alike, so we analyze all these aspects with our vision technology and select the most distinct identifiers on your palm to create your palm signature.”

As a result, consumers can conceivably shop or enter any other business using Amazon One without needing to bring their wallets. They can use Amazon One for one-time use or for repeated visits. The company ensures security by not storing your personal data on a device. Instead, Amazon encrypts images of one’s palm and sends them to a secure area we custom-built in the cloud where Amazon creates your palm signature.

Ant Allan, analyst at research firm Gartner, told Adweek that told that palm vein recognition is a “handy” method for authentication because it is contactless and doesn’t require consumers to “carry a card or other device or remember any password or PIN.” It is also “more acceptable to customers than, say, face or fingerprint, which might have an association with criminality or surveillance or raise concerns about the security of the data and potential abuses.”

Amazon One Is in Market

Amazon One has moved beyond the experimental stage. Amazon is rolling it out across Amazon GO and Whole Food stores as well as third-party locations. In fact, Amazon has ambitious plans to offer Amazon One to other companies. Recently digital ticket company AXS deployed Amazon One at Red Rocks Amphitheatre in Denver. As a result, fans use their hands as tickets to enter the venue. Here’s how Amazon describes the experience:

When entering the venue, fans who have enrolled with Amazon One for AXS ticketing can choose to simply scan their palm instead of their mobile ID or ticket. Fans can enroll at a dedicated station just before they enter the amphitheatre or at a second enrollment station inside the amphitheatre for future AXS events. Enrollment takes less than a minute, and guests will have the option to enroll with just one palm or both.

When a ticketholder is ready to enter the amphitheatre using their palm, there is a designated entry line where Amazon One is enabled. When a fan hovers their palm over the Amazon One device, a unique palm signature is built by our computer vision technology. The service is designed to be highly secure and uses custom-built algorithms and hardware to create a person’s unique palm signature. Once enrolled, the service is contactless and ticketholders can use their palm to enter AXS ticketed venues in less than a second or two.

The AXS example is important because it shows how the technology could be used as a passport. Imagine more businesses and organizations using Amazon One for any type of experience that requires personal verification, such as going through security at the airport, entering a movie theater, visiting a museum, or passing through a subway turn style. These are high-contact environments that, like shopping, feel less safe in a post-pandemic world. Meanwhile, U.S. senators have raised concerns about Amazon One, including how the company could use consumers’ data for advertising and tracking, and customer privacy more broadly. But what do consumers want? They’ll vote with their actions.

What Businesses Should Do

Your business might be considering the use of Amazon One (or any other kind of friction-free experience) as AXS has done. Does this technology make sense for you? One way to answer that question is to take a specific business problem you are trying to address and examine whether friction-free technology can help you solve it. One problem might be, “Customers are telling us they want a faster experience in stores located in densely populated areas, where the crowds are bigger especially at peak buying times. How can we improve that experience?” Then, use a research approach known as a design sprint to brainstorm on a solution. Amazon One may or may not be part of that answer, but a design sprint is a quick, cost-effective way to help you come up with a way forward. Moonshot uses design sprints as part of our FUEL methodology for commercial innovation. Contact Moonshot to learn more.