Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic” — Authur C. Clarke
When technology works, it works like magic. Amazon just announced its vision for the future of retail: a smart store that knows when you’ve selected an item, and automatically charges you for your selected items upon leaving the store. There are no cashiers, no registers, and no checkout lines.
Powered by artificial intelligence and sensors, this concept, called “Amazon Go,” eliminates the worst aspect of the grocery store experience: waiting in line to buy your items.
Think about any grocery store visit you’ve had: It can be fun to look at all the food, navigate and browse the aisles, pick various foods and throw them into your cart. But the food-shopping experience almost always turns sour when you get to the checkout part. Even when there are no lines, the checkout process is slow, you have to look at all the items you selected again as they get scanned, and then you have to pay for everything, sign a receipt, and wait for all of your food to be placed into bags.
It takes time, a lot of waiting, and it’s generally boring.
That’s why Amazon Go is a sound concept. There, the whole shopping experience happens on your phone, specifically, you download the Amazon Go app before visiting the store, scan a QR code to get in, and the store recognizes which items you’ve selected and charges your Amazon account once you’ve left the store.
So, is there a lesson here for businesses?
Automation is coming
Amazon brought its 1-click online shopping to the offline store, setting the stage for a world where offline retail is going to look alike its digital version in that there is no waiting in line. This is another sign that automation is coming: one of the biggest tech companies, with considerable capability in logistics and artificial intelligence, is putting a stake in the sand and is planning to build 2,000 grocery stores across the U.S. in the next decade.
Amazon is not the first company to take on the “waiting in line to buy your items” challenge, Apple, McDonalds and Disney have approached it differently; but Amazon is setting the standard in the grocery category and thus showing what full automation might look like and how it will affect minimum wage jobs in the service industry and beyond.
Some may believe that interacting with humans is a key for customer experience. I believe it’s important in the right situations, not all the time. AI will enhance the customer experience by eliminating common hassles that people have come to accept as a given; not mess it up.
It’s inevitable that AI technologies will make their way to every industry, the companies best positioned to push it are the big ones like Microsoft, Google and Amazon; established business take note.
Reset people’s expectations
Amazon’s “Just Walk Out” technology might make Grab-and-Go the norm across every retail category. Why? We are living in the Age of Efficiency, where computing is anticipating our every need making our lives simpler and more convenient without having to go through time-wasting hassles.
Tech companies are responsible for this, and non-tech companies better take note because people’s expectations are being reset to expect more efficiency in their day to day activities.
Soon, we might hear people say: I wish every business were like Amazon!”.
Innovation is about solving real problems
Some believe this is just hype. It’s not. Innovation is about solving real problems, not just creating gimmicks to gain attention. Amazon went after the worst aspect of the retail experience and used AI technologies to figure out how to eliminate waiting in line to buy your items.
Entrepreneurs and business leaders should take note and learn from Amazon on how to approach innovation. Like Google, Amazon is also known to entertain wild ideas that get headlines that rarely make it into the world, but both are focused on solving real problems. Entertaining wild ideas is a form of experimentation, testing for hints on how something might and not work and course correcting as you learn.
Ask yourself: what is my industry’s biggest pain in the ass and why hasn’t anyone solved it? How might we eliminate that pain in the ass? How might we make this vision of how it could be real?
Bottom line: This is a bold move by Amazon, but not surprising. Amazon understands that in the future every business is a dead business if they’re not digital. There are many problems legacy industries have that will be eliminated with technology; it always happens.