The area with Just Walk Out technology opened for an Eagles concert at the Forum on Friday. (Courtesy venue)
Concession area uses Amazon’s checkout-free technology
If you work for Steve Ballmer, the former Microsoft CEO who owns the NBA’s Los Angeles Clippers, the Forum and the Clippers’ future home, the Intuit Dome, you had better be attuned to the latest that technology has to offer.
“We’re always being pushed to utilize those innovations to make an experience better,” said Gillian Zucker, president of business operations for the Clippers, a 25-year veteran of running facilities who also oversees the Forum, the Agua Caliente Clippers and the Intuit Dome, set to open in 2024.
On Friday night at the first show of the Eagles’ two-night stand, the Forum became the first West Coast facility to open a checkout-free concession area powered by Amazon’s Just Walk Out technology. A swipe of a credit card enters the customer through a turnstile into an area with pizzas, chips, candy and beer, as 66 monitors/sensors overhead track each movement, charging for every item physically chosen as soon as you exit.
The technology is the same that will be featured in two Amazon-owned Whole Foods Market locations expected to open next year and is also being used by arenas in Chicago and Boston.
Just Walk Out technology was selected after the Clippers’ successful CourtVision project with Amazon Web Services, a computer tracking system that monitors player movement, their stats on different parts of the floor and optimum shooting spots, analytics that help inform in-game strategy.
“One of our goals is to take the friction points for a fan and see how we can improve them,” Zucker said. “For most people, the worst part of attending an event are the lines. We have spent a number of years utilizing various kinds of technology that would eliminate that experience. This is another step in that direction.”
Zucker is looking forward to implementing these new technologies when the Intuit Dome, just south of the Forum and SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, California, is ready, from security, ticket ingress and authentication for on-site clubs to retail concessions and merchandising sales.
While the streamlining is intended to enhance the ticket holder’s experience, does it have a concomitant cost in human jobs? “Not at all,” she insisted. “The Forum concession area actually has the same number of people working there, but the roles have been repurposed for different tasks. We still need people to restock the shelves, greet and provide customer service as well as security.”
As for Just Walk Out, Zucker noted that they’ve changed the name to Just Rock Out in tribute to the Forum’s legacy as a home for musical events. And while a credit card is the only way to get into Just Walk Out now, soon customers will be able to enter with Apple Pay and other smart cash apps.
“The technology is improving by the day,” she said. “There is a proven use for this in retail with merchandise and clothing, even though it can’t distinguish between sizes quite yet — but that’s coming.”
With SoFi Stadium providing a seamless digital experience from parking to entrance, the Forum still offers hard tickets as an option, but that will soon go the way of the eight-track tape.
“It’s really about meeting people where they are,” said Zucker. “If the benefits of the technology are advanced enough, then wide adoption follows. It’s driven by the consumer’s comfort level. Our goal is to provide an environment that is convenient and feels safe and secure.”
Getting her start in minor league baseball, then moving on to motorsports, Zucker has seen many advances in terms of live events, but she acknowledges that the pandemic helped accelerate many that were in development into practice.
“My interest has always been how to provide the best possible experience, one that is unforgettable,” she said. “Technology is a big part of that. I will embrace anything that brings out that connection.”
The dawn of the smart arena is upon us, and it couldn’t come at a better time, as the live concert business looks to rebound in a big way, using digital technology to enhance that experience.
“I think the desire to attend live events is stronger than ever,” agreed Zucker. “We need to connect with thousands of other people feeling the same emotion. There’s nothing that can replace that. After what we’ve been through, people are hungry for that.”
And as Just Walk Out has shown, it’s something even money can’t buy.
Editor’s Note: This story has been updated since it was originally posted.