Amazon has finally opened its Amazon Go convenience store to real-world shoppers following a year-long trial.
As you’d expect from Amazon, it’s not your average convenience store. It utilises “the world’s most advanced shopping technology so you never have to wait in line”.
In layman’s terms, the store tracks your every move using an army of cameras and sensors, with no traditional checkout process, and customers are automatically charged for products they leave the store with.
All you need is a smartphone, an Amazon account, the Amazon Go app and – at present – your postcode to be Seattle, WA.
Will it come to the UK?
While the signs are promising, should the real-world experience live up to its potential, it may be many years before Go opens its doors in the UK.
“Amazon registered a trademark for the name in the UK in December 2016, as any responsible business would do”
Amazon registered a trademark for the name in the UK in December 2016, as any responsible business would do, and further speculation suggested that it was scouting locations in London in early 2017.
Perhaps these were unsubstantiated, or perhaps the challenges in Seattle have halted international plans, but history suggests that what Amazon launches in the US invariably makes its way to European shores.
It normally happens first in the UK, with perhaps Germany the only other logical location.
That said, Amazon Books is still a Stateside-only curiosity and the business will probably focus on rolling out more Amazon Go stores in the US before it looks at international expansion.
Would it work here?
There is an old saying that Brits enjoy a queue. In reality, most shoppers would happily do without queuing but will observe a queue to Olympic standards if the opportunity arises.
Our latest research on the UK convenience store sector finds that one of the most requested changes, made by 38% of convenience store users in the UK, is reduced checkout waiting times.
Therefore it follows that a cashierless store, such as Amazon Go, would be welcomed in the UK.
“When asked if a ‘convenience store where products are automatically charged to your account when you take them off the shelf’ would interest them, just 27% of shoppers said yes”
Although, when asked if a ‘convenience store where products are automatically charged to your account when you take them off the shelf’ would interest them, just 27% of shoppers said yes; while 47% were actively against the idea.
Not a glowing endorsement for the future of grocery shopping.
However, digging further into the data shows a stark difference in opinion between younger and older generations: 40% of those aged 16 to 34 were in favour of such a store, compared with just 12% of those aged over 55.
Our research shows that these younger consumers are particularly important for the convenience sector.
They use these stores most frequently, particularly in urban areas, and for a wider variety of missions, be it grocery, click-and-collect or food to go.
They also happen to be a key group for Amazon, with our data showing Amazon Prime membership peaking among this group, with as many as a third (33%) of 16- to 34-year-olds being current Prime members.
Is Amazon Go the future?
Despite the delays, caused among other things by the perennial shopkeeper’s nightmare of customers putting stock back in the wrong place, the technology driving Amazon Go is undeniably impressive.
Amazon clearly has serious ambitions in the grocery sector, with both the opening of Go and the small matter of the $13.7bn acquisition of Whole Foods.
It is also not the only player trialling cashierless stores, from BingoBox in China to Albert Heijn in the Netherlands.
Ultimately, industry-leading technology will only get you so far.
The success or failure of Amazon Go as a mass-market proposition will be judged, as it is for all in grocery, on range, quality, price and service.
It will be feedback on those areas that will be most interesting to hear from the first batch of shoppers who walk through the doors.
- Nick Carroll is senior retail analyst at Mintel