As Brits, we’re generally partial to a good queue (at least, that’s the stereotype). But it’s hard to deny: avoiding checkout queues during the lunch hour sounds too good to be true. Yet it’s exactly this that Amazon Go promises. It’s the first-ever physical store with no money and no queues, and it opened to the public on January 22.
The innovative idea uses artificial intelligence (AI), and a series of sensors to revolutionise the shopping experience. While this has sparked an ongoing debate about the future of automated checkouts, there are still lessons to learn from the retail ripples Amazon Go has caused.
Howard Williams, marketing director at digital engagement specialist Parker Software, explains the lessons that the successes and failures of Amazon Go teach us about e-commerce, automation and the AI-infused future of retail.
1. Make sure you can deliver on your tech promises
The opening of Amazon Go prompted much amusement on Twitter after shoppers were forced to queue to enter a ‘queue-less’ store. Of course, once the hype around the new tech dies down, the experience could very easily live up to its queue-free promise.
There is, however, a lesson to be learned from this, and it’s universal – it doesn’t matter whether you operate online, in-store, or both. When implementing new tech, don’t overgeneralise or exaggerate what it will be able to do. Living up to your technological claims is a must. If you do want to boast about your new innovation – and we get it if you do – only do so once you know that it’s working for your customers.
For example, let’s say you’ve launched an advanced machine-learning chatbot on your website. This chatbot could answer more types of question than ever before, and that’s great. But don’t promise customers that it can answer their every query, with smart, fast service every time. It will look bad on you and your bot alike when a complex question needs human attention and understanding.
2. Automation is our friend, not our foeMany fear automation disruption – the concern that automation will replace human workers and take our jobs. Amazon Go is testament to the dual need for humans and automation.Click To Tweet
Many fear automation disruption – the concern that automation will replace human workers and take our jobs. Amazon Go is testament to the dual need for humans and automation. Despite the store boasting a fully automated checkout experience, there is still a need for human employees.
Granted, the roles of the human employees are not that of the standard cashier. Rather, employees are there to ensure a smooth, optimised customer experience. They make sure the shelves are always stocked, fresh products are prepared in-store, and that customers can be helped in real-time should they face any issues.
Automation has removed the need for stressful payment interactions. Instead, it has allowed the human staff to focus on providing an excellent customer experience – one with human support available the moment the customer has a question. In other words, jobs aren’t being taken by automation: they’re evolving because of it.
3. Importance of a frictionless journey
This successful blend of automation and employees also teaches us the importance of a frictionless, unbroken journey. Technology and humans should be on the same team – not disparate entities.
Amazon Go has ensured an optimal customer experience by using people and machines alongside each other in smooth tandem. We live in the ‘experience era’ of online service, and no longer can businesses compete on price or product alone. Customers stay for a seamless, easy journey – and that’s just what Amazon Go has created. It has blended technological speed with the convenience of human support. The result is a fast, efficient shopping experience.
Even better, Amazon Go can maintain this frictionless experience even when something goes wrong. After the team at CNBC accidentally got a free yoghurt, Amazon Go (and the yoghurt company) both demonstrated approachability and were able to quickly quell any stress. How? They were available where their customers were, on Twitter, giving real-time support. Offline went online, and the experience remained consistently quick.
What the future brings with Amazon Go
Amazon – the world’s most successful e-retailer – has turned its attention to physical retail. In doing so, the brand has still managed to teach us some valuable e-commerce lessons.
Perhaps this in itself is the biggest lesson of all: our traditional definitions of retail are starting to evolve. Technology is blurring lines and breaking barriers. Commerce, e-commerce, m-commerce – it’s all starting to merge into one digitally-steeped melting pot. It’s time to adapt to the new reality of retail.