Is Amazon's Just Walk Out Technology Making Shopping Too Easy?

TECHNOLOGY
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As part of The Drum’s Evolution of E-commerce Deep Dive, we ask if the e-commerce giant’s freeze on ‘frictionless’ brick-and-mortar deployment means a little friction isn’t all that bad. .

Amazon has paused the rollout of cashierless AmazonFresh stores in the UK, The Sunday Times revealed last month. It is reported to be moving forward with opening new stores, for which lease agreements have already been finalized, but it has halted its search for new stores, citing “disappointing sales figures and a bleak economic outlook,” with dozens. Abandoned plans to open. Times.

The action has left experts wondering what’s next for this groundbreaking technology that Amazon has been touting for the past six years.

As the name suggests, Just Walk Out allows customers to collect what they need and simply walk out of the store without having to go through the checkout process or interact with one other person. increase. It uses a combination of artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, computer vision, ceiling cameras, and shelf weight sensors to track items picked off shelves and placed in a customer’s “virtual cart” (basically, Amazon com) are taken out of the store via waist-high sensors guarding the exit, essentially acting as an automated cash register.

Amazon first implemented this technology with its first Amazon Go store, which opened in Seattle in late 2016. Amazon Go customers download your app. The app scans before you enter the store and facilitates the cashierless payment process. This technology was later applied to the Amazon Fresh store. Certain branches of Whole Foods Market purchased by Amazon in 2017.

In 2020, Amazon developed a licensed version of this technology and outsourced it to sell to independent retailers. For the first time, a small grocery store was able to implement Amazon’s cashierless shopping model in its own space. This is aimed at attracting customers to stores where they can offer a more “frictionless” experience.

Instead of scanning the app, customers entering an independent grocery store with Just Walk Out must scan their credit card at the turnstile. You’ll see the text “Just Walk Out Technology by Amazon”. Aside from that, Amazon doesn’t promote its own branding. The look and feel within the store remains largely the same.

In a recent blog post, the company said, “We believe that many shoppers are more likely to choose to shop in stores where the experience is fast, easy, and convenient, and our technology has made this possible for retailers.” “By using our technology in stores, retailers are empowering their employees to assist shoppers, answer questions, and help shoppers find items.” , allowing us to spend more time replenishing shelves when needed than operating checkout.”

That seems like a reasonable enough idea. After all, the proliferation of self-checkout machines arguably indicates that people prefer other methods to interacting with cashiers in person. Why not do away with the checkout process altogether?

Besides, Amazon has clearly proven (at least in the realm of online shopping) that easier is better, and the fewer steps the checkout process requires, the more (I think) people will come back. .

So why has growth recently paused in the UK? Is it possible that Just Walk Out (which is certainly impressive) is somehow missing the point?

Too much innovation, too fast?

Brooks Bell CEO Gregory Ng said Amazon may be making the in-person shopping experience a little too easy for customers. “The reality is that a lot of people aren’t ready for this yet,” he says. “We need to increase the education and comfort of being okay walking out the door with literally anything. General consumers are nowhere near mass adoption.”

In other words, while the concept behind Just Walk Out may seem like a successful idea on the surface, the reality is that many people are likely to find the experience unpleasant, and therefore We tend to shy away from it and prefer more. A comfortable routine for interacting with the cashier (or at least some sort of formal checkout process, even if it’s automated). The point is that many people today seem to prefer having to go through a visibly obvious transition stage at the end of their shopping experience. parallel.

Without such an overt transitional phase—some signal that the shopping experience is over—customers tend to think: Won’t you stop me and look at my receipt? Am I literally just walking out? I feel like I’m shoplifting…” In reality, the consumer needs some kind of physical gate to go through where the light turns blue, or to say ‘I’m done shopping’. Some kind of button and “You’re free to go now”.

It may take extra time, but ask the cashier to hand over your bag or have the cashier spit out your receipt and say in a mechanical voice, “Please shop again soon.” It may be better than just going outside. In the future, perhaps Amazon will use a fleet of anthropomorphic robots to stand at the exits of its cashier-less stores and tell customers as they leave, “You’re done shopping. Have a nice day.” Have a good time.” Yes, it sounds a little Black Mirror-esque, but oddly enough, just walking outside with groceries might make a lot of people feel more comfortable.

The Need for a Well-Defined Identity

Steve Mader, head of global commerce at UK-based agency PHD, said the slow response of Amazon Fresh stores across the UK is at least partly due to identity and value proposition issues. said.

“[The stores are] I’m not entirely sure what they are,” he says. “It’s not a complete grocery store like Sainsbury’s or Tesco. , but it doesn’t necessarily work either way…the store’s value proposition is still not good enough.”

In the future, how will Amazon reimagine the physical cashierless retail experience to attract more customers and create a more enjoyable and sustainable business model?

Madder suggests that one solution might lie in devoting more resources and attention to the shopping environment itself. “In order to differentiate in the market, [Amazon has] Focus on the store, focus on the value proposition, focus on the store environment,” he says. “For reasons other than the first ‘wow’ factor [that comes from using Just Walk Out technology]shoppers don’t walk into an Amazon Go store and select it at Tesco across the street. [and] Make sure shoppers actually enjoy going to your store, not just using technology. “

For more on the evolution of e-commerce, check out The Drum’s latest Deep Dive.

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