Just when things look like they may stay the same, they change…
Amazon recently launched its first checkout and employee free retail site in the America as a natural complement to the existing Amazon web and mobile shopping experience. Products can be purchased via the existing Amazon web or mobile app and collected without Amazon employee intervention in the store. Or purchased in store from a limited selection based on a wholly store based experience with no in store Amazon employee oriented human interaction. This really is an example of digitisation “plus” at work where the historical customer buying cycle of instore person to person interaction with additional onus on the integrity of the financial transaction at the end of the cycle, has been reengineered to become a fully technology enabled experience.
Self-scanning checkouts in retail started the trend and are now somewhat accepted (if at times still challenging to use), but the human option for person to person engagement remained a key element of the instore experience based on the importance of cash collection and a customer satisfying end to the retail interaction. But could this be a “reset” of the customer retail purchasing script delivered in one swipe by the completely new Amazon retail approach. The Amazon experiment or pilot may signpost with tangible evidence the changing state of the workforce where system driven automation may augment or totally replace person to person engagement.
The Amazon GO launch has delivered a degree of shock and awe to both customers and the industry in equal measure and whilst much of the discussion has focused on the impact on jobs, i.e. the detrimental human labour effect, it further signposts the ever increasing importance of information technology in our professional and social lives. Secure wireless networking, high definition cameras, advanced AI, big data and analytics, IOT sensors and the sheer volume of IT elements required that must work in harmony with zero failure is immense. With the end result, promotion of the IT system from technology to augment human actions & intellect to a mission critical platform fundamental to both the business and customer experience. Via this new IT persona, failure, downtime or system breach is no longer an option – for any reason. Tomorrow’s user is already here today and deems a “Digital Me” experience, the only experience – the amalgam of imagination, technology and process allows that to happen.
Whether you are a supporter or detractor of this fundamentally new approach to retailing, the innovation and bravery of Amazon must be admired as the pilot of anything new of this style may suffer from the usual first mover teething challenges (shrinkage, reliability, miss set expectation issues). However, this really is a new dawn for the use of new technology, IOT and actionable AI in a real world customer centric environment. Personally, irrespective of the success or not of this Amazon initiative I have no doubt other retailers will be seriously considering this new customer engagement mode as the potential within is clear for all to see.
In my option human intelligence will NEVER be replaced by IT based systems, but standardised, repeatable human activity that can be automated and “systemised” certainly will be.
Forward now looks very very interesting
Until next time.
Chief Technologist – Computacenter UK: Networking, Security, Collaboration