On Monday, Amazon’s store of the future finally opened its doors to the public.
By now you’ve probably read about how weird it feels to simply walk in, pick up stuff and walk out. It’s all true. When I finally did visit Amazon Go on Wednesday night, I found cashierless shopping a simultaneously disorienting and freeing experience. My 13-year-old daughter, who at first rolled her eyes at the idea of going to a new store (did I tell you she was 13?), couldn’t get over the grab and go experience and suggested we do all of our shopping at Amazon Go from here on out.
Ever since shopping at Go, I’ve been thinking about where this goes from here and the implications for the broader grocery and food retail marketplace. Here are my thoughts…
Amazon Go Doesn’t Get Rid of Humans, Just Better Allocates Them
One thing that instantly struck me were there were more employees stuffed in this 1,800 square foot retail store than any convenience store I’ve ever seen. Like Chris described in his review, it was as if Amazon had placed employees throughout the store to act essentially as walking-talking FAQs.
One could argue that Amazon isn’t getting rid of humans, but is instead reallocating them to areas where their unique skills are better suited. The same thought occurred to me on on Tuesday when I was in another highly automated store, Cafe-X. Ok, there was a robotic arm slinging cups around in a big glass cage, but the two friendly humans helped me out as I walked into Cafe-X made it seem more welcoming than a typical Starbucks. Same when I went to Eatsa, where a friendly host with a clipboard welcomed me and answered questions.
By putting humans up front to onboard customers as they come in and answer any questions they may have, the experience was an overall much better one at Amazon Go (as well as Cafe-X and Eatsa). At Amazon Go, I also noticed the person manning the alcohol section (who checked IDs when you wanted to go in) would instantly reorder and straighten the bottles and cans every time someone walked in an grabbed something. I don’t think I’ve ever seen this at a normal grocery store.
Amazon Go Was Already Catalyzing Change Across Grocery. That Will Only Accelerate Now.
When Amazon announced Go in late 2016, execs at big grocery sat up in their chairs and started paying attention. When Amazon announced they planned to acquire Whole Foods, big grocery execs jumped out of their chairs and ran into strategy meetings and probably haven’t stopped looking at whiteboards with plans about what they should do ever since.
As with every large-scale shift, things seem to come quickly to casual observers, but the reality is IoT, machine learning, big data, robotics and other technologies have been slowly descending on the grocery and retail markets for some time. It just sometimes takes someone like an Amazon to accelerate change and force others to move more quickly.
Some have speculated that Amazon might treat its Amazon Go tech like it does cloud computing and let others us it. I don’t think that’s quite right. Amazon already offers some of its AI technology like image recognition through a PaaS model at AWS, but I think its the magical combination of these that Amazon has perfected and likely will use in its own points of presence (Whole Foods, Amazon Go and, maybe, another retail chain through acquisition).
But, that doesn’t mean there aren’t other companies – big and small – already doing interesting stuff here. AIPoly’s technology is similar to the tech that Amazon Go has that enables grab-and-go shopping, and there are other efforts happening inside bigger companies to tackle this.
Amazon Understands The Meal Journey Could Be Way Smoother And Is Building A Low Friction Path To The Future
Consumers are complicated when it comes to food decisions. Some plan out their week and know what’s for lunch and dinner every day; others make decisions when their stomach starts growling and call out for pizza, search the freezer or head to a restaurant.
If you’re like me, you may be a meal planner and hangry meal-searcher depending on what your day or week’s been like.
Amazon knows this and wants to be there either scenario and all the points in between. While many often are looking at Amazon Go and on the elimination of the friction within the store, I think Amazon’s assembling a basket of technologies, products and services to eliminate consumer friction across the entire meal planning experience.
Think about all the various irons fire Amazon has targeted at the meal journey:
Amazon Fresh grocery delivery: they’ve been working on this for a decade. Whole Foods acquisition significantly improves their reach and ability to get to consumers homes.
Amazon Restaurants: A GrubHub like offering that allows you to order meals from local restaurants shipped to your home.
Amazon Meal Kits: The company’s same-day delivery answer to Blue Apron and other meal kits offerings.
Amazon Fresh Drivethrough Pickup: Part Insacart, part McDonalds drive through. You can order your groceries, and an Amazon employee assembles your order, and you can pick up at a drive-through. Currently only offered in one location.
Amazon Dash: Amazon’s in-home commerce solution for ordering staples. The buttons are what got the press, but Amazon is moving the platform into appliances.
And, of course, now we have Amazon Go and Whole Foods.
Below is a quick and dirty graphic I put together to show the different “platforms” Amazon is working on to make sure they got you covered.
As you can see, Amazon is making bets along every part of the meal journey; whether that’s one of those hangry “feed me now” moments or helping you plan out the family dinner for the next week, they have you covered. Add in efforts around the edges like programmatic, shoppable recipes, smart fridges, drone delivery and even intelligent garden systems, and you can see how Amazon has quietly assembled a holistic basket of platforms for consumers no matter how long or short their decision making time horizon may be.
The bottom line is they want to make feeding yourself through an Amazon platform so easy and friction-free you almost have no choice. While Amazon Go is just the latest and most visible sign of Amazon strategy, the company has clearly been positioning themselves to capture as much of the $5 trillion food retail marketplace for the last decade, and now they have all the pieces to be there at every step along the meal journey.
And that should be the scariest thing of all for any company in the food retail or delivery marketplace.