The opening of convenience-focused food store Amazon Go sparked widespread attention with its checkout-free shopping experience.
Shoppers download an app, add a payment method and scan their phone to enter the Seattle store, which opened Jan. 22. Weight sensors on shelves, cameras overhead and other components track which items are being removed and by whom. Shoppers are charged as they leave the store.
It is not clear whether Just Walk Out technology can be scaled for use in larger spaces — Amazon Go is less than 2,000 square feet — but its introduction has piqued interest because it attacks a major weakness of traditional grocery stores: waiting in line to complete the trip.
“It’s one more sign that Amazon is committed to growing in the food and grocery business,” said Bill Bishop, chief architect of retail consulting firm Brick Meets Click.
Bishop said technology at Amazon Go could set a new standard for data collection informing store experience, because the system registers a sale as soon as an item is removed from a shelf. While many retailers collect point-of-sale data at their registers, that information is not necessarily transferred quickly to a warehouse or a distributor as a signal that more product will be needed.
Amazon Go, on the other hand, might be able to use information more readily.
“The data flow can be more seamless, more complete, can go further back in the supply chain,” Bishop said.
Diana Sheehan, director of retail insights for Kantar Retail, expected that some U.S. grocers might look to counterparts in Asia and Europe to learn from or license technology to create similar experiences.
Despite the importance of convenience, however, Sheehan said that customer service still appears to be a strong draw for shoppers.
“The bigger question becomes, in traditional grocery, are shoppers really wanting to not talk to people?” Sheehan said. “I would argue in the U.S. that the refocusing on in-store services, on experience, on things like foodservice in-store, is actually in reaction to almost an anti-(e-commerce) attitude from shoppers.
“We see lots of growth in retailers who are getting experience and customer service and services right, which is the complete antithesis of what Amazon’s done,” Sheehan said. “That’s the interesting piece of it ... I think in retail as a whole it’s not all or nothing. It’s different (solutions) for different trips, for different states of mind.”
The need for retailers to be multi-faceted is one that Amazon itself has highlighted by getting into brick-and-mortar, Sheehan noted. More and more, no company can simply be what has traditionally been.
“Ten years ago it was fine for Meijer just to be Meijer and be a darn good Midwestern retailer,” Sheehan said. “Today, Meijer competes online, Meijer is building and will open a small format concept to reach urban areas, where they haven’t really been able to break through, and they’re going to compete in multiple ways,” Sheehan said. “I think this technology piece (at Amazon Go) is simply a tool that makes the shopping experience easier.”
Traditional retailers like Kroger and Walmart have experimented with streamlining the checkout process, expanding their self-checkout offerings. Sam’s Club allows shoppers to scan items as they put them in their cart and then bypass the line when they exit, only pausing to show a receipt to an attendant at the door.
The growth of options like those, particularly with shoppers being able to pay with their phones, is expected to continue.
Amazon Go is open 7 a.m.-9 p.m. weekdays.
Meal kits are among the offerings there, designed for two and able to be prepared in a half-hour.
Photos from The New York Times showed that grab-and-go produce items like salads and Fresh Prep’d Soup Kits from Ready Pac Foods are also available at the store. Amazon did not immediately respond to an inquiry on whether the Go format carries bulk produce.
Amazon has been testing the format since at least December 2016, with only company employees allowed to use the store. Originally Amazon had stated it would be open to the public in early 2017.