Flexing its considerable muscle in the New Year, Seattle-based multichannel retailer is in the process of opening its info-rich, checkout line-free grocery store Amazon Go to the public in downtown Seattle. As detailed in countless news articles and YouTube videos, Amazon Go operates via a mobile app which uses computer vision to connect to sensors, databases and Artificial Intelligence-driven, data-rich experiences. The endgame is to tame the inconvenience of waiting in line while turning plucking items off the shelf into immersive, real-life videogame.
Rising from the ashes of pioneering, ahead-of-their time, shopping-tech concepts as Videocart and Webvan, a host of incumbents and entrepreneurs today are creating a new vision. This iteration marries IoT, mobile devices and endless streams of data to create the ultimate grocery experience.
In some cases cool apps for shopping lists and healthy eating are merely concepts in search of a purpose. Those visionaries that offer a solution to one or more value propositions are likely to go to the head of the checkout line. Such consumer needs as saving time or money are most obvious, but other benefits could include providing valuable just-in-time purchasing information (the ever important big data on shopping habits) or a fun, interactive experience. Bonus points go to those clever enough to tie useful grocery store adventures to IoT in the home, coordinating with smart fridges that notify the consumer when he or she is low on milk, bread or eggs.
Amazon’s goal, which is a seeming reversal of its original mantra of eliminating bricks and mortar stores, is to open 2,000 such outlets. According to a story in the Wall Street Journal, Amazon will test two other concepts, including a drive-through version and a larger, expansive store to compete with Target and Wal Mart. Based on its tests, Amazon will move quickly into expansion mode with a full-scale, nationwide rollout. The initial batch of such IoT grocery stores will likely be based in states where Amazon has large fulfillment and warehouse centers.
Beneath the desire for Amazon to turn grocery shopping time into something more palatable undertaking is data. Much like its peers, data is the lifeblood of Amazon’s existence. Imagine the amount of personal data the company can gather through someone’s simple stroll along the fresh baked good aisles. Merge that data with what it knows about other purchases, media habits and even conversations with Echo, Amazon is poised to rule the physical and virtual worlds of commerce, content and services.
Amazon is not alone in expressing a vision for the future of grocery shopping. At one end of the spectrum, Italy’s largest supermarket chain, Coop, presented its vision at a Milan expo that wowed visitors with its Future of Food exhibit that featured AI imagery and new detailed app-driven information on new products featured on its sensor-enabled shelves. More conservative in its approach to the future is British retailing power Tesco which operates a lab to test new grocery store concepts. Primarily focused on real-time data analytics that tie to consumer loyalty cards, the company has tested VR shopping at its location in Berlin.
A hopeful ecosystem of IoT technology vendors, app developers, appliance manufacturers and even utility companies are ready and willing to support these new shopping ventures. Those who can connect the dots between convenience, cost savings and experience are destined to be at the crest of this wave. Others will be stuck at the back of the checkout line.