The problem with my typical convenience store experience is that I wind up in the checkout line behind the guy who is indecisive on his cigarette selection, then can’t remember his wife’s lottery numbers, and finally wants to pay for everything in pennies. This experience is the opposite of the convenience that I am looking for.
Amazon appears to have found a way to solve my problem through the magic of technology. You walk into their new Amazon Go store, grab your groceries, and you just walk out.
I recently had the chance to stop by the Amazon Go store in Seattle and try out this experience. While there wasn’t anything super fancy about my shopping trip on the surface, there were several observations that stood out to me when I took some time to reflect back on the experience. A number of these items should be very relevant to retailers as they start to think about how technology is going to impact their store experience over the next few years.
The Amazon Go Store Experience
The general premise of the Amazon Go store is that you:
- Download the “Amazon Go” app that links to your Amazon account
- Scan a barcode on the app to enter the store
- Pick items off the shelf.
- “Just Walk Out”
- <magic happens here>
- You are charged for the items a few minutes after you leave the store.
During my visit, I did my fair share of picking up items off the shelf to look at them and then returning the items to the shelf. I was not charged for any of the items. I also “walked out” with multiple items of the same type and it was able to accurately count my picks. I received a notification about 5 minutes after I left the store that accurately displayed the items I had just walked out with.
What stood out about the experience:
Product mix – The store itself was similar in size to a convenience store. The general product mix was decent compared to some of the other small format grocery stores that I have worked with. The brightest point in the product mix was the plethora of prepared food; the selection was pretty impressive.
No carts – The shopping experience was pretty low impact. There were no shopping carts or baskets. You just grab product and put it into your bag (or just carry it out). As someone who despises that concept of people walking around a store with 2-3 items in a shopping cart (getting in everyone’s way) I really enjoyed this part of the experience.
Greeter – There was a greeter at the front of the store who would help give you guidance if you appeared lost. As with any new retail tech this is important to make people comfortable at the beginning of the experience.
It just worked – The process worked exactly like it said it would. I had not done any research on the tech prior to visiting the store, so I did not know how the cameras/sensors worked. It did seem a bit magical.
What didn’t seem right about the experience:
5 Minutes of Anxiety / Lack of Feedback – During the shopping experience, your cart on the app doesn’t show anything. You don’t actually know whether you have been charged correctly for items until after you have left the store. It took about 5 minutes after I left the store before I received my receipt… this definitely caused a bit of anxiety for me.
Inventory lookup – The app shows you products that are available in the store, but it doesn’t give you any sense of where they might be located or how many are on hand.
Alcohol Section – The alcohol section was roped off and had a person checking IDs in order to get into this section. This makes sense to me, but the experience was pretty awkward.
Lots of employees restocking shelves – During my visit there were a lot of employees in the store scanning outs and stocking shelves. Their tech looked like the standard Zebra TC70 (oddly enough they were also carrying walkie talkies instead of using the builtin PTT functionality on the TC70s). The quantity of employees on the floor compared to the number of customers was a bit overwhelming for such a small space. I was not sure if I just happened to walk in during the time of day whey they are restocking or if they always have this many people on staff to help with their experiment.
For other retailers looking to learn from the Amazon Go store, I think the following 4 points would be my initial take-aways to think about:
- Don’t be afraid to experiment with a new format – Let’s face it, it’s expensive to setup a concept store to test out new ideas, processes, and technologies… but for a larger retailer, the cost of learning in a concept store is tiny compared to making incorrect sweeping changes across your chain (look what Ron Johnson did to JCPenney in 2012). We have worked with clients who have done completely off brand concept stores to test out new ideas and it definitely shined the light on what works and, more importantly, what is not ready for prime time.
- The greeter experience is even more important – In this day of mobile applications that allow consumers to easily find everything in a store, one would think that the job of the greeter is going away. But I would argue that job is even more important than ever: A greeter should be well versed in your new technology offerings as well as any new products or services that your store is offering.
- Get your fan’s to help you build trust in your new technology – Before rolling out new technology nationwide, you need to test and iterate with a small group of your raving fan-boy customers. Longer pilots with “power user” customers will help you make sure your new fangled tech works correctly before you roll it out everywhere.
- Think about how to make the customer experience smoother – I have seen a few examples of where retailers roll out new tech that makes my shopping experience more painful (e.g. initial Apple pay experience, crappy Self-Checkout registers, EMV Chip slowness, QR codes on your phone for each individual coupon, email receipt option on a tiny pin-pad screen, Paypal for payment). As you pilot new technology, make sure that you are testing for the user experience and anxiety levels.
Overall, I enjoyed my experience at the Amazon Go store. I know that Amazon is using this as a test bed to test and validate the concept… hopefully we will start to see this tech in Whole Foods over the next 2-3 years. I look forward to the day when this becomes more common and replaces the self checkout kiosks at most major grocery stores.