The way we buy groceries in the UK has changed considerably in the past decade. Where previously consumers would happily head to the nearest supermarket and join queues of people at the checkouts to purchase their weekly shop, the advent of online shopping has meant that many consumers prefer to do their bulk shop online and visit a smaller, more convenient store to top up for their fresh goods.
The success of internet shopping has mainly been down to convenience for the consumer with the ability to now digitally shop around for the best quality and prices, with all of the information you need to make your purchase decision now at your fingertips. At home, at work, on the go, wherever you happen to be and at any time of day with an internet connection and appropriate device, you can shop for any item you desire.
Sometimes, of course, you absolutely have to visit a physical store and go through the process of queueing up to pay. Online retailers are beginning to realise there are everyday shopping scenarios outside of the digital world and that there are consumers who still enjoy the interaction of going to physical stores. In 2017 online retail giant Amazon made their first entrance to the traditional grocery retail industry by purchasing a supermarket chain called ‘Whole Foods’ in a £10 billion deal. The purchase of the ‘Whole Food’ chain, founded in the US and with stores in the States, Canada and the UK, added to the growing Amazon grocery portfolio which already contained their online delivery service, Amazon Fresh.
And now Amazon have gone one step further, with this month seeing the unveiling of the world’s first ‘Amazon Go’ supermarket. This revolutionary new store has no checkouts or even any self- service tills. Your ‘Just Walk Out’ shopping experience starts at the entrance of the supermarket once you have scanned your smartphone at the entry points. You are then free to browse around the store, pick up your groceries and pop them straight into your shopping bag. No trolley, no basket, no check out. You can buy everything from freshly cooked food as well as the usual grocery essentials you would find in any standard supermarket. On leaving the store you are issued with an electronic receipt for any purchases made and then automatically charged via your online Amazon account.
Inside the store, a series of CCTV cameras and pressure sensors detect when a customer takes something off the shelves or if they put something back. Unless you are buying an item requiring ID such as alcohol, and with no need to queue at a till at the end of your shop, there is no need for any human interaction at all. One customer described the shopping experience as a ‘bit like shoplifting’.
The store has been in development for over 4 years and is based in Seattle right next to Amazon’s global headquarters. In fact they initially opened the store for employees only so that they could test the new technology in real life scenarios. There were teething problems of course, such as children moving items to the wrong places on shelves and the cameras confusing shoppers of similar body types, but the shop is now fully open to the public.
Amazon Go certainly sounds like an ideal in today’s busy world. It should be a much faster and efficient way to shop. But will it mean potential problems for the modern retailer? What of those people employed in retail stores; will their jobs be under threat? Even before the launch of Amazon Go, the British Retail Consortium predicted that a third of the UK’s 3 million shop employees would be out of work by 2025 as retailers increase the use of technology over people. And the Bank of England’s chief economist warned last year that 15 million UK jobs could eventually be lost to robots. So all of this customer convenience could come at a very high price.
Amazon have recently registered a UK trademark for Amazon Go so it seems likely that they intend to expand to these shores very soon. So with Amazon’s digital assistant Alexa in your home, helping update shopping lists and managing your big weekly online shop, and the consumer whizzing in and out of Amazon Go for last minute items, will we ever need the traditional supermarket again?