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Startups

Docomo backs US startup eyeing cashierless shops in Japan

Zippin already uses checkout-free technology in America and Brazil

Zippin CEO Krishna Motukuri, left, says the cashierless-checkout company aims to build a business model based on selling the systems to outside stores. (Photo by Takeshi Shiraishi)

PALO ALTO, U.S. -- Japanese wireless carrier NTT Docomo's venture-capital arm is investing in an American startup that offers cashierless checkout systems for retailers in the U.S. and Brazil and looks to expand into Japan.

Zippin announced Thursday a $12 million funding round led by Kraft Heinz-backed Evolv Ventures, bringing its total capital raised to $15 million. In addition to NTT Docomo Ventures, the Series A round's participants included Japan's Nomura Research Institute as well as Scrum Ventures, a fund based in Japan and San Francisco.

Customers using Zippin's system scan their smartphones at the store entrance, pick up their desired items and leave, at which point their purchases are checked out with no need for a register. It tracks customers and products with six ceiling-mounted cameras, and it uses artificial intelligence and weight sensors on shelves to determine what items are picked up.

In addition to eliminating long checkout lines, the system lets stores assign more staff to customer service, potentially boosting sales. It uses commodity cameras rather than specialized equipment, cutting down on costs.

The company -- founded in 2014 by a team including CEO Krishna Motukuri, an Amazon alum -- hopes to use the Japanese investment as an opportunity to market its systems in a country where small shops are ubiquitous.

Automated-store technology came into the spotlight in January 2018 with the opening of Amazon.com's first unstaffed Amazon Go store in Seattle. Zippin opened its first store in San Francisco in the summer of 2018. 

But Amazon is expected to use its systems only in its own stores, rather than make them available elsewhere. By contrast, Zippin aims to sell its systems and collect usage fees, according to Motukuri.

The company has partnered this year with Lojas Americanas, Brazil's largest retailer, to introduce cashierless checkout at the supermarket chain.

Zippin also offers prefabricated "Zippin Cube" shops with its technology that can be launched in as little as three weeks. Its first such kiosk, an automated concession stand, opened in October at a stadium in Sacramento, California.

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