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Food and drink / Retail / Universities

Amazon’s Just Walk Out technology finds a home at Bowman Hall on Loyola’s Evergreen Campus

A tech-driven mini-grocery store marks the inaugural deployment of Amazon's tech at a Maryland higher-education institution.

Representatives from Grubhub, Loyola University and Parkhurst seen before the ribbon was cut at Bowman Express. (Courtesy of Technical.ly)

This editorial article is a part of The Tech Behind Month of Technical.ly’s editorial calendar.

Before Amazon’s Just Walk Out technology made its public debut in 2018, it was uncommon for any sensible or law-abiding customer to simply leave a store without properly completing their purchase. That’s unless, of course, the items were left at the bottom of their shopping basket, such as seltzers or sodas which were sometimes forgotten after navigating the aisles, allowing minutes to pass and the memory of those bubbly treats to fade.

But now, freshly prepared foods, beverages, frozen foods, snacks and a world aimed at convenience await students of Loyola University Maryland, which last week introduced Amazon’s “Frictionless Checkout” technology at one of its campus stores. Powered by Just Walk Out, this tech also makes Loyola the inaugural Grubhub-partnered university to implement this innovative system. Loyola’s inclusion in Amazon’s network, which encompasses over 50 operational stores and more than a dozen third-party customer establishments, expands its prospective customer base significantly.

This extended network now encompasses not only Amazon employees (who were the initial adopters of this technology) and Amazon Fresh store customers in Franconia, Virginia (since 2021), but also Loyola students who will now have the opportunity to experience and embrace this cashierless technology.

This development was marked by a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the Bowman Express store, held at Thea Bowman Hall on the university’s campus last Friday. Representatives from Grubhub Campus, headquartered in Chicago, joined forces with Amazon for this launch event. The primary focus of this collaboration between Grubhub and Amazon was the heightened convenience the partners say it offers to students, staff and faculty.

“Our implementation of Amazon’s Just Walk Out technology is yet another illustration of how we are fortifying our partnership with campus affiliates through cost-effective technology solutions, while also boosting student engagement,” said Eric Ferguson, Grubhub’s chief operations officer, in a press release found by Technical.ly.

Grubhub had already established a partnership with Loyola’s campus that originated in the use of Tapingo, a widely embraced platform for campus food orders. Notably, Grubhub acquired Tapingo in November 2018.

Representatives of Parkhurst Dining, a food service management company employed by Loyola and other universities to oversee campus dining experiences, were also among the ribbon-cutting attendees. Courtney Caprara, a marketing manager with the Parkhurst team, noted the company’s Forged Partners program — in which it brings local makers’ products to its campuses — during the opening.

“We are always trying to bring the community of local small businesses onto campus so students can get to know what’s around them,” Caprara said. “Parkhurst has Forged Partners for that reason. Those are our go-to family and independently-owned makers within 100 miles of our campuses. Our focus with Forged are minority, women, disadvantaged or veteran-owned businesses.”

“We have this at sites across 14 states and the grocery items available at Loyola’s Bowman Express location are Popsations and Mouth Part Caramel, both HQ’d in Timonium — for now,” she added.

During a brief interview with Technical.ly, Terrence M. Sawyer, Loyola University’s 25th president, eagerly voiced his support for the new initiative.

“I believe this is a pilot for us, I think. And it’s just terrific,” Sawyer said. “I’ve noticed that students are highly attracted to technology, and we must meet them where they are.”

As for the future of this tech, he said: “We’ll see how this works out. We’ve just had discussions with our friends at Parkhurst and we have every intention of expanding this space and potentially extending it to other venues on our campus. We certainly aim to position ourselves at the cutting edge here.”

Loyola President Terrence M. Sawyer cutting the ribbon on the Just Walk Out tech. (Courtesy of Technical.ly)

How does Bowman Express work?

Amazon’s technology integrated into Bowman Express introduces students to a shopping experience not before had on campus, according to Loyola’s Associate Vice President of Auxiliary Operations Mike Mansfield.

“We needed a way for Amazon to integrate with our meal plan, so we use Grubhub  — formerly Tapingo — as the intermediary to facilitate this connection,” he said. “Grubhub’s software communicates with Amazon’s software when a customer enters Bowman Express. Amazon’s technology tracks the customer’s movements, allowing it to understand the items they may have selected. When the customer exits, Amazon’s technology notifies Grubhub, enabling the completion of the transaction.”

Customers initiate their shopping experience by checking in using a credit card or Apple Pay. Sensors in the ceiling then monitor their movements, effectively creating a virtual cart that keeps tabs on their selected items. Upon leaving the store, the customer’s card is automatically charged for the items they’ve taken.

“Loyola students encounter technology like this all around the world, and we aimed to ensure that their experiences here mirror what they encounter elsewhere,” said Phil Revel, resident district manager at Parkhurst Dining. “According to the software, several students had already visited Bowman Express the night before the ribbon-cutting. Remarkably, we didn’t need to provide them with any instructions. At Parkhurst, we observed the impressive sales and thought, ‘Look at that! They’re actually leading the way for us.'”

Bowman Express operates from Monday through Sunday, opening its doors from 6 a.m. to 3 a.m. It caters exclusively to Loyola students, staff and faculty who have access to Thea Bowman Hall. This checkout-free experience accepts various payment methods, including Loyola-exclusive Evergreen Dollars, Meal Points, and debit and credit cards.

Learn more about Amazon’s Just Walk Out tech through the following video:

Companies: Loyola University Maryland
Series: The Tech Behind Month 2023

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