An employee demonstrates how to use the Mastercard Shop Anywhere store at TIAA Bank Field in Jacksonville, Florida. (Roberto Gonzalez/AP Images for Mastercard)

TIAA Bank Field location opens, with more smart checkout options to come

If Delaware North’s deployment of a Mastercard Shop Anywhere checkout-free convenience store at Jacksonville’s TIAA Bank Field was a test case, it went smoothly, a company official says.

“The pandemic put a wrinkle in this, so this is really our first deployment of Mastercard Shop Anywhere, and I think it really helped prove out the benefits of the solution. … Compared to some of the other autonomous checkout solutions we have (deployed elsewhere, such as Amazon’s Just Walk Out-powered stores at TD Garden in Boston), this was more modular,” said Jeff Wilkinson, Delaware North’s chief information officer. “With a few weeks’ notice, we could quickly deliver one of these concepts, do the basic construction and have it set up and ready to go.”

Delaware North can, for example, have it operate during the NFL season for the Jacksonville Jaguars “and break it down at the end of the season and repurpose it to another location,” Wilkinson said.

The TD Garden locations “are more industrial strength and are built into the construction,” he said, adding that both have their place.

Customers using the Jacksonville store are prompted to complete a one-time registration via QR code. Once a form of mobile payment — which doesn’t have to be a Mastercard account — is linked to the registrant, a QR digital key is sent to them that they present at an entrance scanner.

Then it’s a matter of taking what they want and going on their way. The Jacksonville store, which made its debut Sept. 19 for the Jaguars’ home opener, offers prepackaged food and drink items.

“We are hoping to eventually apply it to basic retail merchandise that can be packaged. None of the smart checkout solutions currently handle retail merchandise like team apparel due to complexity of size, colors, etc.,” Wilkinson said. “Our focus with smart checkout is to stock with high-demand items, which traditionally are in the grab-and-go category. As always, we’ll continue to watch trending behaviors and make adjustments as we go.”

Delaware North brands most of its autonomous stores, including the new one at TIAA Bank Field, as MRKT, regardless of the white label solution provider.

The store is near Section 244, just above the second level of the lower bowl and adjacent to the stadium’s eight Terrace Suites suites. The unit has “pretty basic power and telecommunications requirements,” but it sits on an elevated platform, which makes it easier to move but which limits where it can be situated, Wilkinson said.

The placement decision, led mainly by Marcus Snead, Delaware North’s general manager at the stadium, took into account available space for the unit and the need for adequate space for guest flow along the concourse, said Shawn Mattox, Delaware North’s vice president of operations.

The modular checkout-free Mastercard Shop Anywhere store installed near Section 244 at TIAA Bank Field in Jacksonville. (Roberto Gonzalez/AP Images for Mastercard)

“We wanted it to be in an area that’s highly visible, so you could expect good adoption,” he said. “All of those factors came into play.”

As with other checkout-free or autonomous payment solutions, Mastercard touts Shop Anywhere’s use of artificial intelligence as part of its “insights and analytics” platform, along with “inventory management, secure payments, loyalty solutions, and authentication.”

Amazon’s Just Walk Out tech, first used in a location at Chicago’s United Center, will also be in cashierless stores at Climate Pledge Arena, home of the NHL expansion team the Seattle Kraken, when it opens in October.  (The arena is being developed by VenuesNow parent company Oak View Group.)

Checkout-free stores powered by tech from Zippin are also in use at U.S. sports venues such as Golden 1 Center, home of the NBA’s Sacramento Kings; Empower Field at Mile High, home of the NFL’s Denver Broncos; and AT&T Center, home of the NBA’s San Antonio Spurs.

The Shop Anywhere platform uses artificial intelligence and vision technology from Accel Robotics, a 6-year-old San Diego-based firm whose solutions have been installed at a luxury high-rise community in that city. The company also offers an ordering and delivery app called Last Step and has partnerships in the works not only in sports venues but at universities, military bases and fuel stations.

Getting more people to adopt the technology continues to be a challenge, Wilkinson acknowledged, adding that it’s also a factor in self-checkout deployments. People often aren’t aware the option exists, don’t know how the system works, harbor fears about erroneous charges or aren’t sure whether they are allowed to enter the space, but such friction in going frictionless will eventually give way to wider usage through signage and word of mouth, he said.

“All it takes is a few events for visitors to say, ‘This was so convenient. I didn’t have to wait in line. It was as simple as just walking in, grabbing my food and beverage, and walking out. I check my mobile phone for my receipt. There it is. That’s what I purchased and I’m good to go,” Wilkinson said.

Wilkinson said Delaware North’s partnership with Mastercard started “well before the pandemic started.”

“We had initial plans to deploy a few of these concepts supporting arenas and stadiums prior to the pandemic,” he said. “The pandemic caused all of us to pause and now this is our first opportunity to really deliver on that.”

“I would say it is our plan and our intent to continuously watch what’s changing in expected service styles,” Wilkinson continued. “You’ve smart checkout, or autonomous checkout, which is what this is about and we’re also looking at service styles whether it’s self-checkout with other capabilities or even guests using their mobile devices. When it comes to smart checkout, there are at least three strong players out there and they all serve a different purpose, a different need.”