The typical convenience store experience is the opposite of the convenience that most consumers are looking for. You wind up in the checkout line behind the guy who is indecisive on his cigarette selection, can’t remember his wife’s lottery numbers, and finally wants to pay for everything in pennies.
Amazon.com appears to have found a way to solve my problem through the magic of technology. You walk into its new Amazon Go store, grab your groceries, and then just walk out. I recently had the chance to stop by the Amazon Go store in Seattle and try out this experience.
The Amazon Go Store Experience
- Download the “Amazon Go” app that links to your Amazon account.
- Scan a barcode on the app to enter the store.
- Pick items off the shelf.
- "Just walk out.”
- <Magic happens here.>
- You're charged for the items a few minutes after you leave the store (see image to the right).
This may sound simple, but there are significant technical hurdles to ensure this shopping and buying experience works seamlessly every time.
For example, I did my fair share of picking up items off the shelf to look at them and then returning the items to the shelf. I wasn't charged for any of the items. I also “walked out” with multiple items of the same type and it was able to accurately count my picks. I received a notification about five minutes after I left the store that accurately displayed the items I had just left with. Having the customer experience aspects working seamlessly and completely bug-free is crucial for any retailer launching new technology.
What Stood Out About the Experience
- No Carts: The shopping experience was pretty low impact. There were no shopping carts or baskets. You just grab the product and put it into your own bag (or just carry it out).
- The Greeter: There was a greeter at the front of the store who would help give you guidance if you appeared lost. As with any new retail tech, this is important to make people comfortable at the beginning of the experience.
- It Just Worked: The process worked exactly like it said it would. I had not done any research on the tech prior to visiting the store, so I didn't know how the cameras/sensors worked. It did seem a bit magical.
- 5 Minutes of Anxiety/Lack of Feedback: During the shopping experience, your cart on the app doesn’t show anything. You don’t actually know whether you've been charged correctly for items until after you've left the store. It took about five minutes after I left the store before I received my receipt. This definitely caused a bit of anxiety for me.
- Inventory Lookup: The app shows you products that are available in-store, but it doesn’t give you any sense of where they might be located or how many are on hand.
- Lots of Employees Restocking Shelves: During my visit there were a lot of employees in the store scanning outs and stocking shelves. Their tech looked like the standard Zebra TC70 (oddly enough they were also carrying walkie-talkies instead of using the built-in PTT functionality on the TC70s). The number of employees on the floor compared to the number of customers was a bit overwhelming for such a small space. I wasn't sure if I just happened to walk in during the time of day when they're restocking or if they always have that many people on staff. It could be that staff was increased to help with this experiment.
Key Takeaways: Implementing ‘Go’
- Don’t be afraid to experiment with a new format. It’s expensive to set up a concept store to test out new ideas, processes, and technologies. However, for a larger retailer, the cost of learning in a concept store is tiny compared to making incorrect sweeping changes across your chain (look what Ron Johnson did to J.C. Penney in 2012). We've worked with clients who have done completely off-brand concept stores to test out new ideas that shine a light on what works and, more importantly, what's not ready for prime time.
- The greeter experience is even more important. In this day of mobile applications that allow consumers to easily find everything in a store, one would think that the job of greeter is going away. I would argue that the job is even more important than ever. A greeter should be well-versed in your new technology offerings as well as any new products or services that your store is offering.
- Get your fans to help you build trust in your new technology. Before rolling out new technology nationwide, you need to test and iterate with a small group of your raving fan-boy customers. Longer pilots with “power user” customers will help you make sure your newfangled tech works correctly before you roll it out everywhere.
- Think about how to make the customer experience smoother. I've seen a few examples of where retailers roll out new tech that makes the shopping experience more painful. For instance, the initial Apple pay experience, crappy self-checkout registers, EMV chip slowness, QR codes on your phone for each individual coupon, email receipt option on a tiny pin-pad screen, PayPal for payment, etc. As you pilot new technology, make sure that you're testing for user experience anxiety levels.
Brett Cooper is co-founder and partner of BlueFletch, an enterprise mobile development company.