Amazon may just have re-invented shopping with its Go concept store. But Tim Green wants to know if he now has to upgrade his phone OS before he is allowed to buy spaghetti hoops…
British readers of a certain age will recognise the reference. ‘Fork Handles’ was the name of a 1976 comedy sketch by The Two Ronnies. In it, a man walks into a shop and asks for ‘fork handles’. The shopkeeper then gives him four candles.
Fork handles. Four candles.
It helps to be a native English speaker.
The sketch is still funny, but wow does it reflect a different age. This was how shopping used to be before the self-service supermarket changed everything.
It was set in an age when you had to ASK someone to get the items for you. Amazing.
Since the arrival of self-service, the most significant changes to (physical) shopping have been about scale rather than experience. The biggest impact has come from Walmart, CostCo etc.
However, Amazon Go might change all that.
Amazon Go answers the big criticism of in-store mobile payments: that paying with a phone in a shop is no better than paying with a card. It hasn’t re-configured the checkout, or even speeded it up. It’s got rid of it altogether.
To remind you, Amazon unveiled its new retail concept last month. The big idea is to eradicate the checkout. Instead, shoppers just place items in their bags and walk out.
This is possible because every store visitor has to scan his or her Amazon Go app before entering the shop. Amazon then uses a combination of computer vision and AI to track which item the shopper put in his or her shopping bag.
When they leave, Amazon sends a receipt to the app and debits the user’s account.
The e-tailer received a huge amount of attention for Go. This is unsurprising, as the concept seems to represent the next era of shopping. That said, Amazon was not the first to have the idea. It’s been trialled in Sweden for example. Meanwhile plenty of retailers now offer self-scanning – even the Walmart-owned Sam’s Club.
France’s Monoprix deserves a mention here too. It offers a service called ‘livraison à domicile’, which lets shoppers fill their basket and then leave it at checkout and walk out. Monoprix then delivers it to their home. The company even parodied the Amazon Go video to trumpet the merits of its system.
For me, the interesting angle on Amazon Go is how it answers the big criticism of in-store mobile payments: that paying with a phone in a shop is no better than paying with a card.
It’s why Apple Pay, Vodafone Wallet, PayPal Mobile etc have become useful alternatives in-store rather than the default option.
But with Go, Amazon has made the smartphone app the start point for a genuinely transformative retail experience.
It hasn’t re-configured the checkout, or even speeded it up. It’s got rid of it altogether.
That’s massive. And it’s interesting that many commentators believed this is what Apple Pay might look like. Before its launch, I recall reading blogs predicting that Apple Pay would combine a payment app with in-store Beacons to create a new way of shopping.
Instead, Amazon did it.
And though the Go store in Seattle is a test case, reports suggest Amazon has plans for 2,000 more of them. (Amazon has since denied these plans as outlined in the WSJ.)
Whatever the truth, the story proves yet again that Amazon is prepared to try bold ideas (drones, Echo, Prime, Fire etc). It really deserves credit for its audacity (even if the motivation is shareholder value above anything else).
But every big new idea raises questions from the awkward squad. So here are mine…
- What if you have the old version of an OS. Will you be denied entry to Amazon Go because you haven’t upgraded to iOS 10 or Lollipop? Or worse, if you have a Windows Phone?
- Will Amazon use your ‘real world’ shopping habits to show you ads for things online? And will it do that annoying Amazon thing of recommending things you already bought?
- Will shoppers put some kind of “Faraday cage” around their shopping bags to avoid the product trackers?
- How will Amazon resolve disputes over what you did or didn’t buy? Will they send you a video?
- How will shoppers pay for loose items? Will every grape be tagged?
- And what happens if I eat one of those grapes while shopping?
- Can I bring a friend with me while I shop? Will she have to wait outside if she doesn’t have an Amazon Go app?
- What if my battery dies? Will Amazon stop me entering Go if my battery is low?
- Can my kids use my phone to buy vodka and cigarettes? (actually, the youngest will be 18 soon, but you get the point).