Over the past several years, giant e-retailer Amazon has rolled out several iterations of bricks-and-mortar stores. The first was a bookstore, designed more to display books available online than to have a wealth of inventory.
The second was a convenience store, Amazon Go, which was rolled out to the general public recently after serving as an Amazon-employees only and limited edition Seattle prototype.
Is the Future Here?
Well, is Amazon Go the future of shopping?
It does have many futuristic touches. First, unlike conventional bricks-and-mortar stores, access isn’t gained just by walking in. To access the store at all, you have to have an Amazon account. Without the ability to demonstrate an Amazon account, which is done via the Amazon app on one’s phone and scanning a code, you can’t actually enter further than the scanner.
Second, the store has no cash and no cashiers. Now, no cash is no longer highly innovative, as many people shop with some form of electronic payment. Amazon Go’s chief innovation here is that there are no cashiers, because no cash, no checks, and no debit or credit cards are beeded. Just Amazon’s account, prescanned.
Third, there’s no waiting in line, because no cashiers are ringing other people up in front of you. Once you’ve entered the store, it’s grab whatever you want and go. The merchandise will be billed on your Amazon account.
More than one reviewer of the opening week said the experience of taking and going without an exchange of payment and bagging felt like shop-lifting. And some commentators noted that you have no idea what anything costs throughout the experience. Customers can presumably access their Amazon accounts to find out, but there’s nothing intrinsic to the shopping experience to make consumers aware of it.
Amazon Go is a convenience store that also sells prepared foods.
It Could Be
Whether Amazon Go becomes the future of shopping remains to be seen. Reporters for CNET, for example, pointed out that it was frictionless, like shopping Amazon online. If customers find this convenient and sales rachet up, we can probably look for other retailers to do something similar.
Amazon, for one, might make shopping at Whole Foods, which it purchased last year, achievable via customers’ Amazon accounts.
Some features, however, may be difficult for other companies to replicate as part of their business strategy. Customers can go cashless with a variety of plastic, but the merchandise is not necessarily set up to be scanned without cashiers.
Reviewers of Amazon Go also commented on the plethora of cameras and scanners, on the ceiling and presumably elsewhere, which are presumably necessary in lieu of cashier scans.
CNET observed that Amazon is said to track every interaction with merchandise, just as it does online. In other words, if you pick up a Diet Coca-Cola and then choose Snapple instead, it still knows that Diet Coca-Cola was a near thing.
Will the cashier-less store result in unemployment for the nation’s 3.5 million cashiers? Amazon says no, because store employees are used elsewhere, as stockers and identification scanners (in the wine and beer section). Presumably, cashiers could be retrained for one of these roles.
In addition, as Slate points out, the scanners and store may also open up new employment opportunities for software engineers and other purveyors of technology news.
Ultimately, the future of U.S. shopping likely lies in the hands of consumers. If Amazon Go proves popular, look for there to be more. If sales are so-so, it may remain a piece of sales exotica.