WHY THIS MATTERS IN BRIEF
Most companies understand the concept of the “Frictionless customer experience” but very few of them are any good at it, Amazons latest store demonstrates what you can achieve if you have vision and a willingness to experiment.
No cash? No time to wait? No wish to stand in close proximity to another human? No problem, says Amazon, which has announced a new store that makes use of sensing and artificial intelligence (AI) to do away with the checkout altogether.
There’s just one shop so far, in Amazon’s hometown of Seattle. Called Amazon Go, its modest 1,800 square feet of retail space has a very time-poor kind of customer in mind. There are ready-to-eat meals, basic groceries, and meal kits to cook at home lining its shelves.
But the experience of buying goods from this store is certainly not one for the privacy advocates among us. Upon arrival, you have to scan an app to pass through the entrance – like you do with a digital boarding pass. From this point on, it knows you’re there, and can keep track of what you do.
Amazon says that the store uses a mixture of on shelf sensing, sensor fusion, artificial intelligence and machine vision technologies to keep track of every item you pick up, adding each one to a virtual shopping cart, and removing items that you put back. When you leave, it double checks the list by detecting the items you’re removing from the store and charges your Amazon account, leaving you to eat your sandwich without having to stand in line for a single moment. This, it seems, is how people shop in the future.
Amazon Go joins a history of attempts to automate the grocery store. Keedoozle tried its luck in 1937 with a system of conveyor belts, glass cabinets, and personalised keys to remove people from the process, though it shut down when its back end couldn’t support its popularity. Then, earlier this year, a supermarket in Sweden opened that uses an app to grant access to customers, although it demands people scan barcodes via their phone – essentially a souped up Scan and Go mock up that’s already used within many supermarket chains that worked on a tech enabled trust model that used CCTV as backup. Nothing as frictionless as Amazon’s latest store.
Amazon looks to be running a much tighter ship. While finding ways to circumvent the system may appeal to hackers, it sounds as if most ordinary folks would find themselves unable to cheat a system bristling with sensors and cameras that monitor shoppers’ every move.
If it works as advertised, lifting products off the shelves and simply walking out may become the new way to shop – part of Amazon’s bet on the idea that delivering unparalleled convenience will keep customers coming back.