Amazon Go: One-off novelty or the shape of things to come?

Published 3 Min Read

If you’re like most people, going to the grocery shop is probably not your favourite way to spend free time. But Amazon has opened a store that may just change the way you think about shopping. Their newest high-tech retail concept, Amazon Go, uses sensor-infused technology and a vast number of small overhead cameras to track what products you pick up from the shelves and leave the store with. Amazon Go would certainly bring shopping time down, but will everyone be on board with the experience? Is this a one-off – or the model store of the future?

The process seems relatively simple: scan the QR code from the Amazon app to get through electronic gates and enter a futuristic space with no baskets, check-outs or queueing. Take your items from the shelf, and leave when you’re ready. A few seconds later, you receive an in-app receipt for items you already paid for, without the need for scanning the items or taking out your credit card. Perhaps the ultimate grab-and-go experience for introverts, one that makes grocery shopping feel a bit like shoplifting… even if you still get ‘caught’ and billed. The implications for retail, logistics and customer experience are huge and varied, but it’s the oceans of newly created data that will be at the centre of it all.

The ability to access, find what you want and leave the shop again within seconds has appeal, but it comes with potential costs to customer privacy and it’s unclear how comfortable shoppers will be with this. Of course, all major retail environments have a plethora of IP cameras installed inside. An increasing number of them are also
deploying facial recognition to better understand the foot traffic and prevent shoplifting. But not many of them can track your smallest movements, or have the potential to send you product recommendations based on what you bought (or even briefly looked at). Although Amazon has not yet confirmed the scope of technology-consumer relationship, and whether data collected by Amazon Go will be utilised for their online shopping service Amazon Prime, the opportunities to monetise new data flows will be tempting. They will likely be waiting to see the reaction of customers before testing out additional features and use of data.

With growing concerns among consumers about privacy, and changes in the regulatory landscape, implementation of the concept on a wider scale does face some barriers. And while the concept may well become a well-accepted format, there are some other areas that Amazon needs to pay attention to and get right.

One question is the extent to which Amazon Go diminishes in-store human interactions. This was to be expected given Amazon’s relentless focus on increasing speed of service but, whilst we’re used to shopping alone online, will the bricks-and-mortar shopping experience feel right without the human touch? Yes, there are Amazon Go staff available to check IDs on the alcohol section, replenish stock and to greet the shoppers on the entrance. But how – or will – these interactions prove meaningful? Most retail technology is really about supplementing or improving human interactions, with the aim being to ensure the customer journey is smooth and staff can work efficiently. There is no inherent value for the customer in stripping out the human element, so if that is happening we ought to be asking why it’s being done and how it’s being replaced. Retail technology should strive to make shopping more personal and more relevant by creating meaningful places that customers will want to come back to. Well-integrated technology can help create a sense of connection, something we call ‘digital placemaking’ (see our article for Retail Focus to learn more about digital placemaking). Ensuring a meaningful shopping experience for Amazon Go will happen, in a way, by ignoring the big news – no checkouts! – and focusing on the human interactions that the tech makes possible.

In China, the widespread adoption of
unmanned stores, gym pods or even karaoke booths already show appetite for concepts such as Amazon Go. Although the US and Europe may not embrace things in quite the same way, the new store will help retailers understand how Western shoppers react and behave in environments with reduced human interaction. Integrating high-powered AI- and sensor-reliant tech with physical retail space and the people in it will be a challenge. With thoughtful, customer-centred design thinking we can create the next-generation shopping experiences that deliver results for retailers, but also build loyalty and create human connections.

If you’re interested in discussing how The BIO Agency can help you to create the retail store of the future, get in touch with us at:
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