Guests can insert their credit cards at the entry gates. Once inside, anything they take off the shelf is automatically added to their virtual cart. They are then free to leave.
It’s no secret that large public arenas have taken the lead in introducing automated shopping experiences to the general public. And it’s not hard to understand why: Allowing fans to get through the lines faster improves the guest experience and allows the venue to optimize labor.
Case in point: Hockey fans and music lovers are among the first people in the greater metropolitan New York area to enjoy the benefits of Amazon’s “Just Walk Out” technology at UBS Arena at Belmont Park, home of the New York Islanders.
The $1.1 billion arena, designed to accommodate 19,000 people for concerts and 17,255 for NHL games, opened in November and has welcomed top artists including Harry Styles, Sebastian Maniscalco, Billie Eilish, Dua Lipa, Genesis and more.
Guests visiting the two “On the Fly” stores at the arena can insert their credit cards at the entry gates. Once inside, anything they take off the shelf is automatically added to their virtual cart. They are then free to leave. If they put anything back on the shelf, it gets automatically credited back to their credit card.
Guests tap or insert their credit card to enter the “On The Fly” store.
The two stores, operated by the arena’s foodservice partner, Delaware North, are located near sections 108 and 212, offering packaged beer, spiked seltzers, soda, bottled water, chips, candies and sundries. Delaware North associates serve as greeters and provide in-store assistance as needed. Guests buying alcohol are required to show their ID to a store attendant for age verification.
UBS Arena is cashless, but there are “reverse ATMs” in place for guests to exchange cash for a debit card.
A seamless guest experience
“You can grab whatever you need and you walk out and it’s a very seamless experience,” Jackie Halas, senior director of technology in business relationship management group for sports service at Delaware North, told this website in a recent phone interview, along with her associate, Amanda Whichard, vice president of information technology. “It’s meant to reduce or eliminate lines so you really are walking in, getting what you need and getting back to the action, the events at the arena, faster.”
“We are excited to work with UBS Arena to offer guests an easier and faster way to shop for what they need in the stadium without missing the event they’ve come to enjoy,” Dilip Kumar, vice president of physical retail and technology at Amazon, said in a prepared statement.
Sports and entertainment venues respond
Delaware North immediately recognized arenas’ enthusiasm for the “Just Walk Out” technology when Amazon introduced its “Just Walk Out” technology to other retailers after introducing Amazon Go stores.
“When this technology first came about, it really became a hot topic with Amazon,” Halas said. “They launched in Washington and then when it was a reality, our businesses, clients and partners were like ‘Wow, this is an innovative experience.'”
The arena is one of several arenas Delaware North has operated since Amazon offered the technology to other retailers. Other arenas include TD Garden in Boston, Climate Pledge Arena in Seattle and KIA Forum in Los Angeles.
“First and foremost, it’s a more frictionless experience; you tap or dip your card to enter and the store is your oyster,” added Whichard. “They (customers) enjoy that way of shopping, and they can be a part of it pretty quickly.”
Guest response: positive
Delaware North surveys its guests and tracks what is being purchased and in what quantities. The technology’s impact on customer spend has been positive.
“More broadly speaking, as you look at these types of installations, not just with Delaware North but across the industry, you do see that when people can move through that line faster and don’t have to pull out their credit card…they do make larger spends,” Whichard said.
While the guest spend is higher, she said, it is not double that of a traditional store.
The company is currently evaluating the purchasing activity and comparing it to more traditional formats, but Delaware North officials did not wish to reveal statistics or comment on ROI. One reason is that COVID affected the number of people attending the facilities, complicating comparisons with more traditional facilities.
Employees still critical
Whichard said there is a misconception among some that an autonomous store does not have employees.
“It hasn’t changed our labor and our staffing at all,” she said. “We have staff in place now for checking IDs when alcoholic beverages are purchased. We have staff in place inside the stores to help guests as they’re looking for a certain item or have questions about how it works or where something is.”
A lot of the facilities using the technology have been newly built from the ground up, Halas said, but Delaware North is working with its partners on ways to retrofit existing spaces.
“As guest experiences and needs change, we can adopt quickly with that,” she said.
Technology players meet the challenge
While Amazon is recognized as a technology pioneer in autonomous shopping, Delaware North is currently working with other providers as well.
In addition to Amazon’s “Just Walk Out” technology, Delaware North uses Mastercard’s “Shop Anywhere” technology to provide unattended checkout at TIAA Bank Field in Jacksonville, Florida.
“I wouldn’t say they’re the only company out there that’s doing this or doing it well,” Whichard said regarding Amazon.
Technology requires commitment
The capabilities of today’s technology enable service providers like Delaware North to meet customer needs successfully, Whichard said, providing they (the service providers) are sufficiently educated about the technology.
Learning how to use the technology does require a commitment, she said, and the company must be able to use it on a repeatable basis.
“Overall, we’ve had pretty seamless deployment, and we definitely attribute that to really solid planning for our business with our technology and operating partners, and a great support team from ideation through launch,” Halas said.
“New technology that solves existing challenges is a lot of fun for fans and guests to participate in,” Whichard said. “It’s a lot of fun to see positive reaction, not only from the fans and the guests there, but also from our clients and internal staff as they get to experience the new technology.”
Photos courtesy of Delaware North.