There’s a scene in Being John Malkovich where the titular character crawls through a portal inside his own head. The result is a crazy world filled with “Malkovich, Malkovich, Malkovich” ad infinitum.
That’s kind of how I feel whenever I write about Amazon: the company is everywhere, launching so many things. Now comes word from The Wall Street Journal that Amazon is planning on launching “dozens” of its own grocery stores. These aren’t new Whole Foods locations; they would be Amazon grocery stores.
It’s important to note that this idea could never come to fruition. It’s based on “people familiar with the matter” and Amazon tries a lot of things, some of them stick, some Dash, err, don’t. There could any number of reasons for Amazon to launch its own grocery stores — if it’s one thing Amazon likes, it’s control — but let’s assume that Amazon grocery stores are going to happen and spend our Sunday morning doing a quick thought experiment to tie some Amazon threads together.
This may border on red-string conspiracy, but here are some things that we know so far:
- Amazon’s raison d’etre is to remove friction from the shopping experience. Two-day shipping, voice shopping, in-trunk delivery, in-garage delivery, in-home delivery. All aim to get you your packages faster, so you subsequently buy more stuff.
- As The Journal notes, Whole Foods doesn’t carry foods with artificial colors, sweeteners, preservatives or stuff like that. Ever tried to buy a plain ole can of Coke at Whole Foods?
- While Amazon killed off the plastic Dash buttons last week, the company still has its Dash Replenishment system and virtual Dash buttons to facilitate easier restocking of household items.
- Amazon has been learning how to do brick and mortar retail. It operates a number of Amazon store locations, has owned Whole Foods for a year and a half, and is rapidly expanding it’s Amazon Go Stores. Amazon Go locations in particular are interesting because Amazon builds them from the ground up to do cashierless checkout.
- Amazon has gotten into the robot delivery business with the launch of its Scout.
- The Spoon uncovered a patent that was issued to Amazon for an autonomous ground vehicle (AGV). Unlike other delivery robots, this robot would live in your garage (or whatever) and venture out to get your packages from a nearby delivery truck or some other fulfillment type mechanism.
- Amazon invested in Plant Prefab, a company that makes prefab houses.
Wow. Amazon does have a lot going on. So let’s bring all this together.
The Journal reports that Amazon is eyeing locations that are 35,000 sq. feet for its new stores — half the size of a normal grocery store. If Amazon builds out its own locations it can carry whatever junk it wants, thereby not sullying the Whole Foods brand. But more importantly, with only half the square footage, the Amazon store could carry only the junk you want. Well, you and your neighbors. Amazon’s algorithms will be able to predict what items a particular area wants and how much of it and stock just that.
Building out its own half-sized stores would also make it easier for Amazon to architect them from the ground up to be cashierless. And since they are bigger than a Go store, they could hold more items and better serve as a type of delivery fulfillment center.
And that fulfillment center option is handy because if you, the shopper, don’t want to go to the store, no worries! You can order groceries online for delivery or pickup. And thanks to Alexa and/or Dash, Amazon at some point will know what groceries you need and when and can either dispatch a Scout robot to you, or call your AGV to come retrieve your groceries from the delivery vans making its rounds.
Who knows, perhaps Amazon is gaining enough building knowledge from Plant Prefab to make a sort of doggie door for your AGV, which would finally get Amazon deliveries inside your house.
On a long enough timeline, it’s easy to imagine Amazon doing anything (lord knows what they are working on that we don’t know about yet). But more immediately, it has all the pieces in place to make the notion of its own grocery stores more compelling than just another place to buy your bag of groceries. Perhaps they’d be the kind of place John Malkovich likes to shop.