A personal face is still as important as automation for shoppers

LS International

From online supermarket shopping to click and collect services and self-checkouts, the shopping process has become increasingly automated in recent years. Now Amazon – already the world’s largest internet retailer – is shaking up the shopping world once again.

Its new concept, Amazon Go, looks set to push automation to new levels in the shopping experience. Essentially, Amazon Go will provide the world’s first checkout-free grocery stores.

Customers can walk out of the shop without queuing or having to pay at a checkout. Instead, they use the Amazon Go app to enter the store, choose items that are recorded by sensors and these are charged automatically to the customer’s Amazon Prime account.

This checkout-free shopping experience utilizes similar technology seen in self-driving cars and computer vision. It is the most advanced shopping technology ever seen. What Amazon is calling ‘Just Walk out Technology’ will automatically detect when a customer has taken an item, or returned it to a shelf, and keep track of what is in the shopper’s virtual cart.

The first Amazon Go store opened its doors in December 2016. It is situated near Amazon’s headquarters in Seattle and is open to employees only initially. It is set to be opened to the general public this year. Of course, it won’t stop there. Amazon denied reports that it intends to open more than 2,000 Amazon Go stores in the US and claims that it is just testing the market. However, on the day that the first physical store opened in Seattle, the company registered a UK trademark for the Amazon Go format. It seems pretty clear that we are going to be seeing more of Amazon Go.

The potential impact of this new advance in technology could, of course, be massive. US analysts suggest that Amazon’s Go technology could wipe out 75% of American grocery store jobs. Even before the launch of Amazon Go, the British Retail Consortium predicted that almost a third of all the UK’s shop jobs would be lost by 2025 as a result of automation. The wider impact of robots on the employment landscape has been much discussed, with some predicting that robots will ultimately replace as many as 15 million UK jobs.

Further automation is inevitable. A large proportion of the shopping process will become automated in the years ahead but is still going to remain crucial for retailers to maintain a personal face. Good old-fashioned human judgement is still required, alongside data and algorithms.

It was a key message from The Big Debate 2016, one of the largest events in the food industry calendar, held last autumn. Of course, speed and convenience are increasingly important for shoppers. As Google’s UK Sales Director, Martijn Bertisen said, “WWW now means – what they want, when they want, where they want it.”

However, although shoppers demand efficiency in their shopping experience, personalized services and a personal touch is still important. With brand relationships with consumers weakened, promoting the brand’s personal face will be crucial in the future. Automation brings many exciting possibilities, but it should not completely take over the whole shopping process.

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