Amazon Go Storms the Retail Barricades

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There is a considerable novelty factor to the store. It will wear off, but for the time being, it is making shoppers giddy with excitement and even trepidation. Inside of Amazon Go, I observed many shoppers clustered around the gates after they had made their selections. Some were afraid to leave. “It feels so wrong to just walk out,” said one man to his friend, laughing nervously. “It feels like I'm shoplifting.”

“Okay. Are we gonna do this?” said the friend. After mustering up a small amount of bravery, they walked out and, later, received their clearly itemized bills.

With the public constantly flowing in and out, Monday to Friday from 7 to 9, flaws will be exposed, and Amazon will have the opportunity to make adjustments. Perhaps most bewilderingly, I found that the store's WiFi was a little weak — a problem that is both predictable and, given the other technological hurdles already overcome, easy to correct.

It should be noted that there are currently many employees in the store, clearly identifiable by their puffy orange jackets. This is likely temporary. These staffers are there to assist, answering the public's questions, and resolving any apprehensions. Others are there to prepare fresh meals and stock shelves. 

Overall, the store definitely feels like a glimpse of the future. It's on the same block as the Amazon Spheres, three surreal-looking glass domes that house rare tropical flora in addition to Amazon employees attempting to tackle their workloads. (Amazon hopes that the “biophilic design” will inspire creativity and improve brain function.) It isn't uncommon to see several LimeBikes or Ofo bikes on the sidewalk out front. These are community-shared bicycles that can be rented out using a mobile app and then abandoned anywhere for the next user to find. It all feels like a sci-fi novel, roaring to life.

Amazon Go has been described as a convenience store, which conjures up images of a 7-Eleven, or perhaps a New York bodega. This is inaccurate. Amazon Go is essentially a miniature Whole Foods, which makes perfect sense given Amazon's recent acquisition. Most of the items available for purchase are healthful and the labels “fair trade” and “organic” appear abundantly. It isn't difficult to imagine Amazon Go's technology licensed to other retail outlets and gradually rolled out across Whole Foods' 477 locations.

People would be able to quickly grab a meal during their coffee and lunch breaks, with more time left over to actually consume their food and relax. In turn, Amazon would gather massive amounts of valuable data on consumers' buying habits. The store's reduced labor costs and monetized data might even translate into lower prices, which would help Whole Foods shed a negative brand image. In the past, critics have derisively nicknamed the chain “Whole Paycheck,” in reference to its high prices.

But what would this mean for the specific brands on all those retail shelves? In these stores of the future, there might not be as many employees in the aisles to help nurture sales. Brands would need to adequately convey their products' value, both in the product packaging and in their digital marketing.

“Branding and consistency will be key,” said Mary Cochran, co-founder of Launching Labs Marketing. “Products will have to be recognizable through other branding, marketing, and packaging efforts from both web and on-shelf presence. Good branding will enable customers to grab and go without research, or thinking too hard.”

Next: Brands must brace themselves. 

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