The software giant, which is developing systems that track what shoppers add to their carts, has shown sample technology to retailers across the world and has held talks with Walmart about a potential collaboration.
Microsoft aims to help retailers keep pace with Amazon Go, a highly automated store that opened to the public in Seattle in January.
Amazon customers scan their smartphones at a turnstile to enter. Cameras and sensors identify what they remove from the shelves. When customers are finished shopping, they simply leave the store and Amazon bills their credit cards.
Amazon Go, which will soon open in Chicago and San Francisco, has sent rivals scrambling to prepare for yet another disruption by the world’s biggest online retailer. Some have tested programs where customers scan and bag each item as they shop, with mixed results.
For Microsoft, becoming a strategic ally to retailers has meant big business. In addition to developing retail technologies, it ranks number two behind Amazon in selling cloud services that are key to running e-commerce sites.
It is not clear how soon Microsoft would bring an automated checkout service to market, if at all, or whether its technology would be the answer retailers are looking for. But some see the technology as the next big innovation in shopping, one that Amazon’s competitors cannot afford to ignore.
“This is the future of checking out for convenience and grocery stores,” said Gene Munster, head of research at Loup Ventures.