Amazon Go: The Next Generation Of Retail?
By Alan Hancock
The power of technology lays in its potential to fundamentally change the way we live. From the wheel to the computer processor, simple or complex, technological innovation is about making ideas a reality whether through saving us time or resources or by improving our wellbeing and making life more enjoyable.
With that in mind, I want to take a look at the technology spearheading Amazon’s first foray into “traditional” retail in Amazon Go and how it holds the potential to revolutionise how we shop.
It’s no secret that retail is a fiercely competitive market perhaps now more than ever. With the future of the high street still in jeopardy not just here, but overseas, and big names experiencing huge difficulties; business are fighting for every last penny. Despite this, Amazon has been looking to establish itself in bricks and mortar retail for some time and it’s with the development and launch of Amazon Go back in 2016 where they stand to make a huge impact.
Put simply, Amazon Go is a supermarket minus the checkouts. It doesn’t seem particularly groundbreaking but the potential influence this technology could have is far reaching and it feels like the beginning of something big.
According to Amazon’s promotional video, the stores utilise “computer vision, deep learning algorithms and sensor fusion” which they’ve called “Just Walk Out technology” eliminating the need for checkouts. All you need to do is download the Amazon Go app to your phone, scan it through the entrance gate and a network of ceiling mounted cameras and sensors in conjunction with weight sensitive shelves trace your movements and track your selections. Whatever you add or remove from your physical basket is also added or removed from your digital one. Once you’re finished, you Just Walk Out and your purchases are charged to the card linked to your Amazon account. No tills, no queues and perhaps most importantly, no fuss.
It’s a forward-thinking concept that relies heavily on smartphones working alongside bespoke technology to create a slick, efficient customer experience that specifically addresses the modern consumer’s on-demand expectation.
It’s currently in its infancy with only six stores operating in the US, the most recent opening its doors in Chicago in September of this year, but reports suggest that Amazon is preparing for a huge expansion on both sides of the Atlantic. In early October, The Sunday Times reported that Amazon was searching high streets up and down the UK for retail space of between 4,000 and 5,000 sq ft meaning that some of us may be able to Just Walk Out relatively soon.
It’s a real game changer because as with every great piece of technology, it forces us to reevaluate the borders of the realms of possibility. Will this become the new norm or is this merely the first step into the next generation? Perhaps one where the digital and physical worlds combine seamlessly to provide consumers with their own, intimately personal shopping experience.
How will others react to this challenge and what will they develop in order to compete? Within fashion, some 70% of consumers purchase what they try on in the fitting room, so the implementation of smart mirror technology provides huge opportunities to offer personalised styling.
In recent years, the slow rumble towards a cashless society has picked up momentum with the introduction of contactless payment and Apple Pay; would a further proliferation of Amazon Go stores and even a licensing agreement to use the technology elsewhere hasten the demise of cash? And what will become of the humble wallet and purse?
Not only that, but the implementation of this technology raises questions about automation, machine learning and the development of AI leading to fewer jobs; it’s a legitimate concern. There are over 3 million retail assistants employed in the UK alone; could this potentially be the retail equivalent of automation decimating jobs on the production line within the automotive industry?
It’s possible, likely even, but I don’t think there’s a need for retail assistants to panic just yet. Whilst tilling may become a thing of the past eventually, quality human interaction is a fundamental part of exceptional customer service and excellent service is a key driver of growth. Retailers invest millions in service training and, with the market as intense as ever, the perception of good customer service is vital.
Some retailers believe the checkout is more important service-wise as it’s the last point at which a positive impression can be made but, in my experience as a retail assistant, this is often not the case. Some of the best examples of exceptional customer service come from interactions on the shop floor where the customer may not necessarily have expected it. If you positively defy a customer’s expectation, you create an exceptional experience, and this is where Amazon Go may well have a substantial leg up on its rivals. By eliminating the need for a checkout and having the bulk of their staff available on the shop floor, mingling with customers, you create more opportunities for authentic interaction and upselling. The challenge for Amazon is how well they’re able to effectively balance their service proposition in tandem with their technology.
It’s clear that the retail landscape is changing dramatically with more discerning customers looking for value and quality on demand and it’s technology that’s driving this. If our high streets and city centres are to survive, retailers have no choice but to embrace the direction in which Amazon is heading by adopting a modern, fluid, technology-savvy approach. Debenhams, House of Fraser, John Lewis; these are huge names all seeing their profits get squeezed and their stores close and I don’t believe they can afford not to.
Of course, I may be letting my enthusiasm for the concept get the better of me; perhaps Amazon Go is simply a gimmick and nothing more Maybe it’s design will cater only to the metropolitan millennials looking for a quick lunch.
Who knows? In a few years we may well be reminiscing about tills as fondly as we do the VHS tape.
Photo by Alexandre Godreau on Unsplash