This month Amazon confounded expectations by setting out to launch a bricks and mortar retail outlet. It is not unprecedented for pure-play brands to launch a physical store (e.g. Made.com), but it is an interesting move for the world’s largest online retailer.
Bricks and mortar is about the only thing that groups Amazon’s planned venture with the others it will be surrounded by on the streets of Seattle, when it launches in 2017. The Amazon Go store is a supermarket with a difference. No checkouts, no queues. Shoppers will simply open the app to enter the shop, add items to their baskets, and then open the app at the exit gate. Everything will be paid for; wirelessly, effortlessly, and without human interaction.
As Mary Portas would argue, the high street beats the internet when it comes to shopping experience. Retailers are using stores not only to showcase their products, but to offer interactive experiences, making the high street a destination for entertainment. Charlotte Tilbury’s in-store VR installation is a great example of this, as is Superdry’s magic virtual dressing mirror, while Apple’s Fifth Avenue store – one of the most successful stores in the world – has an abundance of gadgets for customers to play with, making the experience rewarding, and the store a tourist attraction in its own right.
Amazon clearly believes checkouts and the queues they result in are retailers’ biggest problems, and are banking on tech being the solution. However, regardless of the level of innovation, technology can easily become a frustration if the user experience is not seamless.
Those who shop at supermarkets will be well attuned to the frustration when they are marginally delayed by having to enter a PIN at the checkout rather than pay with contactless. The prospect of a store so advanced that it highlights what you may like as you walk around, knows you and your tastes better than the shop assistant, and even delivers to you when your shop is too large for your bag, is almost frightening, yet equally exciting. If the technology can live up to expectations, and consumers embrace it, this may well revolutionise the weekly shop as we know it as other retailers follow suit.
For advertisers, taking out the human element means a more emotionless path to purchase, dictated instead by algorithms and past behaviours. Winning in this world won’t be about mastering the algorithm but rather breaking it, by being a brand that people harbour irrational demands for. Being distinctive and standing for something has never been such an important marketing strategy to lock down in 2017.