Five years in the making, one year behind schedule, but the 1,800 square Amazon Go store at 2131 7th Ave, in Seattle, is set to open to the public on Monday, January 22.
At first glance, the store resembles a convenience store with a little grocery store features added in. It really reminds one of a New York City bodega.
We offer delicious ready-to-eat breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snack options made by our chefs and favorite local kitchens and bakeries. Our selection of grocery essentials ranges from staples like bread and milk to artisan cheeses and locally made chocolates. For a quick home-cooked dinner, pick up one of our chef-designed Amazon Meal Kits, with all the ingredients you need to make a meal for two in about 30 minutes.
Amazon Description of Amazon Go
Sounds a lot like a Whole Foods Market, doesn’t it? And that may be what this experimental store is all about, shaping the future experience shopping at a Whole Foods Market.
The store hours of 7am – 9pm, Monday – Friday fall short of the typical 7-Eleven and other convenience store’s 24/7 store experience. Presumably, as Amazon runs this store through the public test, and becomes more comfortable with the technology, it will expand the hours.
No Cashiers, No Problem
To shop at the Amazon Go store, shoppers have to download the Amazon Go app, available on IOs, Android, and the Amazon App Store.
As one walks into the store, they must pass through a gate system and show the QR code to the scanner for gates to open. During the internal test, an Amazon Employee stood at the entrance as an ID checker to make sure people were authorized to enter the store.
With a public opening, this “greeter” may still be there for a period of time as Amazon works on perfecting the technology and helps folks get passed the gate.
Once inside the store, shoppers pick up any item and place it into their bag. No special bag or shopping cart is needed, any old bag will do.
The store’s cameras feed the images to a computer system that analyzes objects and movement and then places products into a “virtual shopping cart.” Even if an item is returned to the shelf, the item is removed from the virtual cart.
There is no need to show the product to a camera or scan it through the app. Shoppers simply shop as they normally would at a grocery or convenience store.
But it is not just cameras that keep track of objects. The store’s shelves have weight sensors, so the technology that powers all of this high-tech shopping receives multiple inputs about what shoppers are selecting and placing in their bag.
When done shopping, customers just walk out of the store and the app charges the purchase to the customer’s Amazon account. No waiting, no hassle, quick and convenient!
Shifting Role for Staff
The company is emphatic that this new store concept does not actually reduce staffing, but shifts the role of employees.
Instead of being tasked with scanning products and processing payments, staff work to keep shelves stocked and prepare fresh products throughout the day. No more mystery meat sandwiches with expiration dates days from now.
Amazon says the staff is also there to help shoppers with suggestions. This maintains the human touch in the high-tech store.
The Future of Convenience Stores?
This first Amazon Go store does not have a made-to-order counter nor does the app offer a way to place custom food orders. Right now the first store is limited to grab-n-go items, and it would be nice to see a made-to-order food pick-up-area for sandwiches, salads, and possibly simple hot meals.
In theory, it could be possible for the app to allow ordering of made-to-order foods and then a customer just enters the store and picks up the order. Wawa already offers such a service in its convenience stores.
The entire convenience store industry is changing from the old model of sodas, snacks, beer, rotating hot-dogs, bad coffee, and pre-made sandwiches made somewhere in an industrial park hundreds of miles away, to a more modern approach offering freshly made sandwiches, salads, and to-go foods.
Amazon Go is a super high-tech version with a few extra bells and whistles that modern convenience stores are changing to. Except, prices at Amazon Go are to stay within the grocery story range, so if Amazon Go expands beyond a test, it would become a major competitor to existing convenience stores.
One other factor to think about, cash is still a popular payment method in the U.S. Are we ready to go fully cashless yet?
With over 90 million Prime members, that is already a large number of Amazon converts that would likely shop at an Amazon Go store. (Note: Amazon Prime is not required to shop at Amazon Go).
And Amazon Cash is a scheme that allows those without a bank account to deposit money into their Amazon account. Would future stores have an Amazon ATM to allow shoppers to top off their Amazon account balance with cash? This could be the way around the “cash problem.”
Amazon Go is a Bit Orwellian
To be frank, there is a bit of something unnerving about Amazon knowing every little detail about ones shopping behaviour. The company stated to TechCrunch that it wasn’t using facial recognition for this test, but it still can track movement and analyze that movement.
Remember, shoppers have to enter the store with a QR code. So the system knows which account entered the store and can use movement and purchasing data for marketing purposes.
Not too dissimilar to online shopping. But there is more data the company could mine, such as travel patterns. The analytics information could tell Amazon which stores a customer frequents, what times they typically visit, and how it may fit into shipping addresses (home or office) to provide high level demographic data for marketing purposes.
Actually, the information recorded would be specific to a person even without facial recognition, as most shoppers are not going to share their Amazon account with others. Will Amazon customers be able to opt-out of such data gathering?
And this begs the most serious question, would law enforcement be able to access the data with a court order? Could they force Amazon to notify them when a shopper enters a store?
There are a lot privacy issues as stake with a system that uses a high level of surveillance, even if face recognition is not used.
eCommerce is Not Turning Shoppers into Hermits
One takeaway from the Amazon Go store is that the giant online retailer does not expect people to turn into hermits, only ordering products from their home or office and never step into a store.
This could be an important lesson for SMEs as well, especially those that build their entire business on online shopping.
Retail is not dead, it is just changing. And there could be opportunities for SMEs that design and make their own products to seek out wholesale or retail partners.
Even the initial Amazon Go store stocks products from local producers, and Whole Foods Market has long supported local suppliers as well. This might provide opportunities for some entrepreneurs.
How do you think retail will change? Drop us a line in the comments section below.