I am writing this blog as I return from a trip to Seattle which of course included a visit to the most talked about small retail space ever – the Amazon Go grocery store! For all the press this store has received for its incredible technology, I think it is really just “Amazon So (What?)”. It was definitely interesting, but in my opinion not worthy of all the buzz it has received. Here’s why:
- The Store is Really Small: The 1800 square foot Amazon Go store is a mix between a 7-Eleven and Pret A Manger (popular store located throughout Europe and in major US cities like New York and Chicago). Amazon Go has many of the same selections as a 7-Eleven with the prepared salads and sandwiches, as well as essentials similar to what you would find in a grocery store or at Pret A Manger which also offers a lot of “grab and go” items.
- Closed on Weekends: Any experiment in the grocery/convenience store industry that does not involve being open 7 days a week is truly questionable. The store is only open Monday thru Friday from 7am to 9pm. I first tried to visit the store on Saturday and was disappointed like so many others who walked up to the door to see that the store was closed.
- Not Having to Check Out Was Nice, but May Not Be Worth the Trade Off: Having all of my movements tracked by Amazon sensors as if I was a lab rat is not a tradeoff that in my opinion offsets the modest convenience of avoiding any sort of check-out counter. I would have been perfectly content to walk through a self-checkout that uses an app instead of a credit card or cash. It would be almost as fast and certainly much easier for a retailer to implement. Personally, I found being able to use my cell phone to open my Marriot hotel room to be a cooler form of technology than not having to go to a cashier.
- Felt Uncomfortable Not Having to Check Out: We have been conditioned our entire lives not to accidentally or intentionally walk out of a store without having paid. The idea of walking out without knowing with 100% certainty that I had not shoplifted was uncomfortable. I know this is really just about new technology, but I kept checking my email waiting to get confirmation of my purchase which did not occur until 2 hours AFTER I left the store!
- It May Be Really Hard to Scale: I question how scalable this technology is either across a much larger store or across a lot of stores. It seemed a bit like solar energy from many years ago. Only the true diehards could justify investing in the technology. It took many years before this technology was cost effective enough that consumers could justify the investment. Since Amazon has been very quiet regarding the cost of the technology to open this store, it is hard to know how scalable it is. At this point, it appears that they will need at least the same staff as is required to run a 7-Eleven since they need someone at the door to make sure you know how to get into the store and someone in the liquor department to check identification.
YES, the technology was interesting. And YES, I believe that the cashier position in most grocery stores will be significantly reduced, especially as minimum wage increases across many regions of the country. But so far, I think the Amazon Go store is more of a novelty and not the revolution that so many are talking about. However, I do congratulate Jeff Bezos and his team on their incredible success at hyping the store and raising the bar technology wise.