Monday, 2 march 2020 | Redacción CEU
Why does everything always go slower when we need to do things faster? No doubt you have been in a situation like this at least once. The meeting lasted longer than you thought, and you left work late. It seems that the same thing had happened to the hundreds of people you came across later in the traffic jam where you got stuck. You could never have imagined this would happen the very same day you invited a friend for dinner at home. You thought you would have plenty of time to make a small purchase before going home. However, you had to go to the market at that moment, when it was crowded. Dozens of people waiting impatiently in line, so you had no choice but to join them. After queuing for a few minutes, which you felt like hours, you finally arrived at the counter. And you suffered what we hoped was the last misfortune of your day: you had forgotten the wallet in your car. Don’t worry, this may be one of the last times you faced such a dramatic situation. Your salvation: Amazon's new proposal.
A lot of changes are taking place in supermarkets. Many of them have a purely commercial origin such as the extension of opening hours or the boom of low-cost chains. Others are born from a change in the consuming habits of users. The most visible example is that of the greater awareness of the excessive use of plastic bags. Either because now plastic bags must be paid or because customers want to face up to global warming, the way of buying is changing. Many people use reusable bags, choose unpacked products and even carry lunch boxes to stores when they buy things at supermarkets. For their part, some businesses that are aware of this new customers’ interest are beginning to offer sustainable proposals like the sale of cotton meshes to store and weigh vegetables and fruits and the removal of plastic wrap in some products.
The growing concern for the environment is tangible in both new business practices and the change of consumers’ habits, but there is another remarkable trend in the supermarket sector: the speed in purchases. The major supermarket chains have understood that they can improve the customer experience by making the purchase easier and faster. These spaces have evolved in such a way that many of them now offer counters where customers themselves can finish operations or organization models for the waiting lines that are much faster. However, if there is a company that has gone further in this regard, it is Amazon. Amazon Go’s customers can buy without taking their wallets out of the pockets. In fact, they can do so without even making a hand gesture or showing a card, just by leaving the store with the desired products.
A few years ago, Amazon surprised the world with its new concept of store called Amazon Go: a store where customers could buy without “paying”, at least in the traditional way. The company now has dozens of these stores distributed in cities like Chicago, Seattle, San Francisco or New York. This proposal, which focuses on the world of food, has not stopped evolving since then. Thus, nobody is surprised that after presenting its flagship store, the next logical step is to win over a more real territory, specifically, the world of mass-market food retailers.
The idea behind Amazon Go Grocery is the same as that behind Amazon Go: a customer goes into the store, chooses some products and leaves the store without taking any intermediate steps to buy the articles. Then, what are the differences between these stores and their predecessors? The magnitude of the challenge. The new proposal is a store which is five times larger than the previous one (about 1,000 square meters). In Amazon Go stores, products are focused on direct consumption, for example, snacks and drinks. Instead, in the new stores, customers can make the same type of purchases that they would in a regular supermarket. This is the reason why this new store raises the number of references from between 500 and 700 to 5,000.
The purchase process is very similar to that of Amazon Go, with the difference that the product identification system has been optimized. Customers identify themselves when entering the store with an Amazon’s mobile app and choose the products they want. A system of cameras and sensors monitors the actions that they perform and adds or removes products to their virtual baskets. When customers leave the store, they pay for all the products they carry, but only by the action of crossing the door. In this sense, the biggest challenge for the company has been to devise the method to charge the product in bulk. The problem has been solved by offering these products per unit or packages so that their prices are always clear. To this end, these stores do not sell freshly cut meat or fish.
The birth of this new type of stores is important for two reasons. The first, because it offers a differential value based on speed. A course that, as we mentioned before, other actors in this sector are taking, but that will lead them to having to sharpen their ingenuity to compete on equal terms. The second, because it lays the foundation of what may be a new payment method. These disruptive proposals are already becoming a reality. Something that it does not only happen in food stores, but in other fields such as urban transport or restaurants with biometric payments. In fact, Amazon is working on a new form of payment through palm-scanning.
Another point that should be mentioned is that this new approach may have an impact on the work world, because with this new model it is no longer necessary to employ workers at checkout lines. All this opens a new debate between the supporters who defend that this development is not going to bring about a negative effect and the critics who see in this type of ideas a red flag. What we can say without making a mistake is that Amazon's proposal is only one of thousands of ideas that foster a paradigm shift in the work model. Are we prepared for this?
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