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Amazon’s take on the future of brick-and-mortar retail with ‘Amazon Go’

Wednesday May 16, 2018 at 9:40am

Alex Lawrence, Content Executive, IPM

The recent news of the merger between Asda and Sainsbury’s is a clear indication that retail is changing drastically, leaving many questioning what the future of grocery retailing may look like. The £51bn-sales merger comes as a protectionist move against powerful organisations, namely Amazon, who are moving inexorably to the food retail market. Recent speculation suggests that Amazon could buy UK supermarket chain Morrisons, signalling the dramatic shift in the framework of food retail in which tech-forward online giants are the new major players. As Asda and Sainsbury’s claimed in their joint statement“The retail sector is going through significant and rapid change, as customer shopping habits continue to evolve.”

Earlier this year, Amazon made its debut in the brick-and-mortar food retail business by launching Amazon Go, an entirely automated supermarket, that allows customers to shop in-store without the need for the physical check-out process. Using a unique technology, Amazon Go aims to streamline the offline shopping experience by making queuing to pay a thing of the past. On the 22nd January 2018, a prototype Amazon Go store opened to the public at Amazon’s headquarters in Seattle.

Before entry, the shop requires customers to download the Amazon Go smartphone app. Once signed in, customers can put their phone away and shop as they normally would. The difference is that when they wish to leave and pay, they can do so by simply walking out with their products. Using sophisticated artificial intelligence and a series of cameras and sensors, the shop follows the movements of customers and records what items have been chosen, put back and moved around. The app, linked to the buyer’s credit card, updates a virtual basket and then charges the customer automatically as they exit.

Dubbed “Just Walk Out Technology” by Amazon, Amazon Go guarantees a simple, stress-free and efficient shopping experience, promising “No lines, no checkout. (No, seriously.)”  This aims to mirror the convenience of online shopping in which Amazon found its incredible success. Amazon’s online website, selling everything from furniture to food, makes the buying experience extremely fast and easy; features such as 1-Click payment and Next Day Delivery guarantee shopping efficiency. By eradicating the stressors in-store shopping provides, Amazon Go promises an experience that replicates the ease of buying online. The pop-up, then, promotes the Amazon online brand by further reinforcing its position as a revolutionary tech giant with convenience shopping as its priority.

With Amazon Go now nearly 4 months in business, Gianna Puerini, Vice President of Amazon, recently implied that the behaviour of just walking out without physically paying is still alien and unnatural to customers. At Shoptalk in March, a retail industry conference in Las Vegas, Puerini stated: “What we didn’t necessarily expect is how many people would stop at the end, on their first trip or two, and ask, ‘Is it really okay if I just leave?” Although the novelty and excitement of the store and its advanced tech will attract customers, the “Just Walk Out Technology” itself is evidently a little too strange at the moment.

In theory, Amazon Go sounds like everything the modern shopper wants: convenience, speed and hassle-free. Nevertheless, it is hard to ignore the slightly eerie element that the concept has. A plethora of cameras and motion sensors tracking every single movement of in store customers sounds more Orwellian than it does exciting. Rebekah Denn, an early Amazon Go customer described her experience of the store as “creepy,” unsettled by the “Big Brother aspect” necessary to track customers. In its effort to appear cutting-edge and forward thinking, Amazon Go actually points to the possibility that this kind of technology in future marketing campaigns is simply going too far.

Perhaps the biggest criticism of Amazon Go to date is that it imagines the future of shopping as one in which the human element is completely eliminated. Allowing shoppers absolutely no human contact in-store disconnects them from the brand experience, portraying Amazon as impersonal and almost voyeuristic – silently watching but not engaging with customers. The store’s revolutionary tech may well attract customers, yet the experience itself is likely to unnerve or confuse them – leaving the automated grocery store as a one-off novelty.

 So far Amazon has not officially confirmed whether they will open more Amazon Go stores or bring the technology to the UK and the prototype remains a basic corner-shop format. Amazon’s purchase of the supermarket chain Whole Foods Market last year and rumours of its plans to buy UK supermarket chains, suggest that the automated buying technology may become more widespread. For now, Amazon Go presents a thought-provoking glimpse into the possible future of in-store shopping.

If you’re interested in reading more views on what digital marketing may mean for traditional retail, you can here.

» Categories: General, Opinion