The Grapevine

Amazon Go and Its Impact on Retail

December 13th, 2016

Your initial reaction to Amazon Go might be fear and/or loathing. But it may actually be good news. [level-members]

Amazon Go, which you can learn about here among other places, is a new experiment by Amazon in which retail employees are not needed for checkout. That sounds as if they’re trying to make retail employees obsolete. The truth is, they’re just continuing their relentless drive for efficiency.

There are, however, some things that can’t easily be managed out of the retail equation by an algorithm. Namely, personalized service. If you’ve ever tried a website’s “if you liked X, you’ll love Y!” recommendation engine, you’ll know that they have their limitations. Take Netflix for example. Yes, they successfully mined their own data to find that Kevin Spacey in a political thriller would be a big hit. And so we got House of Cards.

But you also know that it can be very hard for Netflix to keep track of what you want to see vs. what your kids are watching. (And it’s one thing for them to recommend that I watch Barney. I’m hoping they never put any Tarantino movies in front of my kids …) Even without that kind of confusion, it can be hard for the bots to account for factors like mood and what you’ve watched lately. A string of Westerns in your recent history might make that the perfect choice. Or you might be all done with cowboy movies.

Same is true in a wine shop. Your cash register is certainly replaceable – if not now, then very soon – but you are not, at least not in the short term.

Longer term, as younger, more tech-savvy consumers become a larger part of your audience, the trends are probably less encouraging, though nobody has a crystal ball. If you can support people, give them good advice, and not make them feel stupid in the process, your job and your shop should be safe for a long time.