Amazon is taking a pretty incredible jab at traditional brick and mortar store locations. Essentially, Amazon is testing a store in Seattle in which you check out automatically by simply walking out the door with your products using certain chips integrated into their packaging. Dubbed Amazon Go, the store concept looks to pull together the best of artificial intelligence (AI), facial recognition and other technology to reinvent shopping as we know it.
See their YouTube debut video below:
This is leaps and bounds beyond most department stores today, and will pressure larger retailers like Walmart and Target. At best, current store locations only offer self checkout or parking lot pickup services. While these provide less face to face interaction with store employees, it still provides a barrier to exit, a vital area of the shopping experience that has seen little to no innovation.
So let’s start by breaking down the thought process and buyer personalities of a customer that indulges in Amazon’s employee-free buying experience and why they might value that in a physical store location.
My wife and I have been members of this customer base for years. The moment self checkouts became widely available, we’ve been scanning and processing our own in-store purchases. They break down and still require a lot of customer/employee interaction for certain products with age limitations or special security tags, and often still require you to wait in a line for one to use with larger retailers. We’ve held off on grocery store pickup services as well, as you are still reliant on interaction with store workers, and even more vitally, you are missing out on a core of the brick n’ mortar experience: The perusing of the shelves.
Does this mean we are anti-social as consumers? Why wouldn’t we prefer to utilize only online shopping experiences? We certainly do, but I think this is part of a larger issue in today’s customer, and helps drive Amazon’s core business model. What consumers really value, any person really, is time. We only have so much of it, and when shopping, any barrier between entry, search, purchase, and exit are all intrusions on the happiness we receive when purchasing product. It’s also valuable time that could be spent experiencing other moments of our lives and building memories. It’s not so much a distaste for talking with a stranger, so much as you are spending time interacting with someone that you don’t value as much as another you could be with.
This is where technology comes in, and it’s all reliant on your mobile device. Retail locations have failed thus far to properly integrate the in-store shopping experience and your phone. Amazon is striving to leverage your phone and their own online store account experience to remove all the awkward in-store interactions you might have beyond customer service. Their video’s concept begins with a simple scan or “boop” of your Amazon account on your mobile. (An experience found in many modern transportation systems like metros and airports, and even keyless and self driving vehicles.)
Immediately this could do a multitude of things. The store becomes aware of who you are, what your product preferences are and have been, and what areas of the store you might be most interested in. That new product promotion you are trying to get attention to at the back of the store? Mobile could now easily alert customers of such promotions and direct them there in real time. It also activates your cart (now a singular online and in-store experience through your account), and prepares your purchase lineup as you go.
When you pick up a product from the shelf that catches your eye, you could put it in your bag or cart. Chips likely in the product packaging, and in your cart or bag interact seamlessly, adding it to your digital checkout. Maybe you change your mind? On putting it back, the chips no longer interact and recognize that, removing it from your checkout. This is mostly speculation, as Amazon hasn’t yet released details on this portion of their “Just Walk Out Technology”.
Once finished with your shopping, you simply walk out of the store and the app charges you for the products you chose to keep with you. Simple, no time wasted, and far less in-store congestion that might negatively impact incoming customers. Just imagine how much floor space stores would save, and how much more positive your entry of the store would be without the brigade of checkout stations.
Let’s go back to that “booping” when you walk in. Immediately people will consider the creepy factor of this interaction and how much more trackability this will give on consumer buying patterns. This is something that has been common with any and all interaction with Amazon and other account-based online buying services, and shouldn’t shock anyone. On the contrary, this is something to be celebrated, and can be utilized to reinvent and personalize your shopping experience.
When in-store, this data can be fuel for promotions and deals that might pertain to your interests. It could suggest new products from brands you frequent, or provide you customer loyalty and product discounts on the fly. This also kills all of those annoying paper receipts, and provides you with a permanent hub/record for your past purchases should you need to make a return or other customer service actions. And let’s not forget online shopping as well. With your account tied to both, these actions would carry over and influence both experiences.
Retailers, prepare for a renaissance in customer data. This technology contains ties that are unattainable with current store checkout systems. You would have data not just on what products are being bought and how much throughout the year, but also what other products those buyers have shown interest in or have purchased. This could open up trends previously missed on what products could cross-promote or be bundled. Amazon will have data on how their customers are navigating the physical space, and can create more grounded and powerful store layouts. And just imagine the social integration that customers could share and promote when encountering an in-store promotion, deal or kiosk.
Influencer content that highlights the in-store experience will be an entirely different story that can highlight a more spontaneous and integrated shopping experience. If you are a brand relying on an in-store experience, that can become repeatable for prospective readers that post is shared with. An influencer could post unique product release times, providing a catered in-store experience based on the influencer(s) they follow. Imagine a world in which an influencer’s Amazon account could be public facing to their readership and becomes its own unique shopping-focused social experience. In a way, Amazon Pro could usher in a new buying-strong world of retail-focused social platforms. Amazon’s user data could be that glue between them, similar to how Facebook user data connects many of today’s primary social channels.
Amazon’s digital, in-home assistant released in 2014 is now primed to streamline and integrate the in-store experience in your life at home. You could be sitting on your couch watching a movie, and the thought occurs to you that your pet’s food is nearly out. Without even leaving your couch, you could tell Alexa (The Echo) to add the food to your cart where you could arrange for parking-lot pickup or in-store pickup alike. Maybe you opt for in-store because you have other shopping to do and Alexa chimes in with something like “There’s a limited online deal for the pet food in your cart, would you like to purchase it now and pick up in-store?”
You could be in the middle of your morning routine, and Alexa chimes in that there’s an in-store event based around a product you like. Maybe it even goes further than that? You might hear something like “Matt, the book on your wishlist is having an in-store event today, and the author is signing newly sold books!” It can become quite personal, and clue the consumer into a new buying experience they would have missed otherwise. And just imagine the memories Matt might have in meeting his favorite author? Now wouldn’t that make for a nice addition to a new blog post?
Online and in-store buying experiences have been under a hot spotlight of relevance. Amazon Go is a shining effort to polish and relate both, all while streamlining our time as consumers. The act of walking out with products alone feels respectful, trusting, and empowering. Amazon Go could be that missing link that retailer’s have needed between social and customer experiences, and major Brick n’ Mortar retailers worldwide would do well to give the arrival and departure of their customers the same time and reflection.