Amazon has opened its own grocery store in Seattle to demo a retail concept it calls Amazon Go. Its killer feature? A checkout-free, queue-free shopping experience.
To enter the store, shoppers scan the Amazon Go app on their smartphone and then shop as usual. “Our Just Walk Out technology automatically detects when products are taken from or returned to the shelves and keeps track of them in a virtual cart,” says Amazon.
Take what you want and go
“When you’re done shopping, you can just leave the store. Shortly after, we’ll charge your Amazon account and send you a receipt.”
Amazon Go has taken four years to develop and it leverages autonomous vehicle technologies like computer vision and machine learning to track a shopper’s journey through the store. The end result is an experience where customers can simply “take what they want and go.”
Simon Liss, Head of Innovation and Strategy at Omnifi, identified the concept back in 2015. “In the future,” he said, writing on iotuk.org.uk, “a one-click-buy system will be possible in-store for products embedded with RFID tags. Customers with an existing store account will get identified once they walk in store, allowing them to pick up a product and then simply walk out with it. Payment will be automated through an app and in-store sensors.”
A lot of unanswered questions
Even if the technology is capable, there are a lot of unanswered questions here. How will it cope with shoplifters? Can the tracking systems cope with a busy store? Will people take to the concept or view it as just another retail gimmick? Addressing these is what Amazon’s beta period is for. For now, the Amazon Go store is only open to Amazon employees and won’t cater to the wider public until 2017.
It’s not the first time that Amazon has made a foray into bricks-and-mortar stores — it opened a physical book shop in 2015, citing the “benefit of a physical browsing experience.”
Nor is the first attempt to bring digital convenience to traditional retail. At a time when high street stores are battling to stay relevant against ecommerce websites and home delivery services, technology has the potential to reverse the trend.
Just a gimmick?
We’ve already seen attempts to incorporate digital technology into stores. We’ve seen smart mirrors that show you what clothes look like in different colours; RFID tags to track inventory; shelf-replenishing robots; 3D holographic displays; and web-connected kiosks.
But perhaps most of these experiments have been missing the point? They don’t simplify the shopping experience for customers. Amazon Go does and the fact that Amazon has given a name to its product-tracking tech (Just Walk Out) suggests that its stores might not be the only ones to use it. License this clever technology and you don’t just change the grocery store experience, you change how people shop.
Imagine no more queues for lunchtime sandwiches at Pret A Manger. No waiting in line at M&S. If retailers want to get us back into their stores, eliminating the pain of checking out is a compelling step forward.