Technology & Equipment

The University of Miami leans into tech with Market NXT powered by Amazon's Just Walk Out technology

The new convenience store has been a hit with students, with sales slowly ramping up since the concept launched in March
Market NXT
On offer at Market NXT is an array of prepacked snacks and beverages. | Photo courtesy of Chartwells Higher Education.

Students at the University of Miami have a new, decidedly tech-forward convenience store option on campus. A totally new twist on the age-old model of checking out at a register, they can do their shopping and simply walk out when they’re done, thanks to Amazon’s Just Walk Out technology. Dubbed Market NXT, the concept launched in March, right after spring break. Michael Ross, resident district manager for Chartwells at the University of Miami, says it’s the quickest project he’s worked on as it came to fruition within 72 days of the idea being posed.

Amazon was a big support along the way, said Ross, who noted the Amazon team helped train the university’s foodservice team, which was helpful as the technology was a new concept to the staff.

On offer is an array of grab-and-go items such as packaged sandwiches, bottled beverages and more.

It’s a small but mighty space, at just over 200 square feet, and the team tries to offer as any payment options as possible, including dining dollars, Apple Pay or Google Pay and debit and credit cards.. And Market NXT is simple to use. Students simply walk in, take what they want, then walk out and the system will automatically charge them.

Students at the University of Miami were quick to get on board with the technology, according to Ross.

“And we found that many of our students had already used locations like this. They were familiar with it and they had very few questions and had no hesitancy at all in utilizing the space,” he says.

One concern the team had going into the project was the idea that the store may be easy to steal from. But it’s been a non-issue, as Ross said the team has seen absolutely no shrinkage.

Challenges along the way were mostly internal and a part of the learning process, Ross notes. There were some questions at the beginning such as how to set up products and how placement works. But he says Amazon was available for any questions throughout the entire process and helped the team work through the challenges.

“Amazon was there for us from the start, training us, and we had training programs for each and every one of our associates,” Ross says.

The University of Miami is not new at leaning into tech and Ross has hopes to incorporate new technology in the future within the dining operations. Currently the university offers an instant market and "Nextep" kiosks in many of its retail locations. The university also uses Grubhub across its retail venues, so students are able to place mobile orders online. The goal behind much of this technology is to speed up service, said Ross.

“You hear things about how students don't want to interact with people, or they prefer to interact with people, and I watch and I don't see a preference one over the other,” he says. “I think they're going for the product that they want and then they use the application that's available there to them. So, if we can speed up the service for them and make more things available to them, I think we win.”

While the technology has been successful in speeding up service, Ross says at first he expected these tech-heavy offerings to help with labor challenges, but rather than eliminating some labor altogether, the team has taken the strategy to shift that labor to back-of-house.

“I would much rather see us increase sales overall just because we're able to increase our throughput by adding the kiosks adding the different types of payment processes that speed up service, but then adding the staff in the back so that we can increase speed of service when it comes to producing food,” said Ross.

In the future, Ross definitely sees technology continuing to play a large role in college foodservice, but he believes customer service and an emphasis on people will continue to be important considerations for foodservice operations.

“I also think that people are a huge component. So, there are parts of our business that just aren't going to change, especially at universities. I see our mission as being part of the recruitment and retention process for the university,” he says. “We're here to increase the quality of the students side and that interaction that they have with my staff, I think is really key to making them feel comfortable, making them feel at home.”

Amazon’s Just Walk Out technology has been popping up more and more in on-site foodservice as of late. The company recently brought the tech to hospitals with its badge pay program. And last year, Grubhub Campus, Grubhub’s higher education arm launched the tech at college campuses.  




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