It’s every arena or stadium concertgoer’s dread: getting caught in a hot-dog or beer line while the opening notes of “Hotel California” drift in from the auditorium, stuck smelling popcorn instead of the imagined scent of colitas. But for anyone seeing the Eagles’ closing night at the Forum in Inglewood tonight, it doesn’t have to be that way — at least anybody who’s hep to a new high-tech concession stand getting its official launch, and able to get to the floor-level spot where the singular installation is located.
The new store is being powered by Amazon’s Just Walk Out technology, which has 66 cameras embedded in the ceiling of the concessions space, tracking what you do and don’t leave with. A credit card is required for entry into the store, ensuring that you do get charged upon exiting, even if it’s difficult initially to get over the sensation of having shoplifted.
“Exactly. ‘Are you sure I didn’t just steal this?’ seems to be the most commonly asked question,” laughs Gillian Zucker, president of business operations for the LA Clippers, which took over ownership of the Forum last year.
Probably the second-most-asked question, for anyone not directly related to a human concessions worker: Is there a way to make all the stands like this? The answer to that is no, at least not in the Forum’s immediate future, due to the high costs involved in such a high-tech setup. But the idea is to have these “friction-free” concessions as the standard at the new home of the Clippers, the Intuit Dome, by the time it opens about a block away in 2024.
“The retrofitting of the stores is not inexpensive,” Zucker says, “and that’s really the benefit of starting from scratch, that you can plan for it from the beginning. The technology that’s utilized requires a great deal of back-end capital investment. So we’re excited about the idea of being able to install from scratch (at the Intuit Dome). Having said that, I wouldn’t completely eliminate the possibility of there being more stands like this at the Forum.”
She says they “want you essentially to have an experience just like in your living room at home. If you want something, you walk up to a fridge, grab whatever you want and head back to your seat.” (If, of course, you had to swipe a credit card to get into your kitchen.)
The technology is already in use at Amazon Go and select Amazon Fresh stores across the country. And it’s already being successfully used for concessions in arenas in Chicago and Boston, Zucker says, though this is its first use on the west coast.
Anyone who’s ever taken a drink out of a hotel refrigerator in recent years and feared whether they’d be charged even after putting it back may feel those fears being compounded if they enter an Amazon-powered concession stand and decide to put a mini-pizza or beer back. Zucker admits she had those same compunctions the first time she tried shopping in a clerkless shop, as she deliberately tried to confuse the system.
“I recall walking into the Amazon Just Walk Out store and pulling things off the shelf and then putting them away, even putting them back on shelves that they didn’t belong on,” says the exec. “I took a free sample of something to see if it would charge me. Of course I walked out of the store and it was 100% right. As you know, in many cases, technology can be more reliable and eliminate human error.”
Asked if, in this age of privacy concerns, customers might have any fear of being surveilled, even to catch the opening of a rock show, Zucker says of the 66 cameras: “Don’t think of them as a traditional camera, because they’re not actually taking your photograph. This is actually a tracking mechanism, so it follows you around kind of a bit more like a beacon technology.”
Although the announcement of the new stand was not made until Tuesday and will officially be unveiled at the final night of the Eagles’ three-night stand, it got a soft launch on their opening night Friday. “It was incredibly well received,” Zucker says, “and actually we saw triple the amount of volume as we’ve seen in the past through the same location,” even without any initial publicity to direct attendees there. “People who were leaving exclaiming, ‘Wow, you can get a Pink’s hot dog in less than two minutes.’ And that includes the entire time of walking into the store, perusing, grabbing whatever you want and leaving.”
The Clippers’ affiliation with Amazon predates the concessions shift, and even preceded the days before Steve Ballmer bought the Forum from Madison Square Garden Entertainment for $400 million in 2020. (That deal allowed the adjacent construction of Intuit Dome to proceed, while allowing the Forum to live on as a concert venue.) “More than five years ago. we started looking into the tracking technology that’s utilized in order to track stats of the players during the game, and created a broadcast experience through computer vision with that technology in conjunction with Amazon Web Services,” Zucker says. “We’ve had a relationship with them for many years, so this was a logical next step as we were looking for ways to help address the pain points of people standing in line at concert events or sporting events.”
Is it better than normal concessions in every way? “We’d like to think that these will become ‘normal’ concessions,” she says. “I think if there is something that will slow the adoption of this, it’s simply the capital cost to install them. But I certainly can see a day in the not too distant future when this is considered the widely adopted and normal technology, in order to have a transaction.” And not just for concessions. “We think it has really broad applications. If you think about any time that you need to stop and have a transaction, if there’s a way to automate that and make it faster for fans, then you can eliminate a lot of the pain points that people experience when they come to large events.”
Under the new system, in other words, Eagles fans will be able to check out with a Diet Pepsi any time they like, and better yet, they might even be able to leave.