Change Practitioner of the Month goes to Amazon – Jan 2018

There are very few areas of our lives that technology has not touched. From fitness trackers to home entertainment devices, technology is a pervasive force that aims to make our lives more convenient and mundane tasks less time-consuming. Take shopping for example. The explosion of the e-commerce sector and online shopping in recent years is a testament to the success of technology in providing a simple yet efficient service to its customers. And the benefits to retail customers are endless! No more waiting in long queues for the ‘pleasure’ of trying on outfits in brightly lit hot changing rooms with their harsh unforgiving HD type mirrors which smugly emphasises lumps and bumps which your own bedroom mirrors are too emotionally intelligent to point out to you! Indeed, no more waiting in long queues to pay for an outfit either, if you have a PC or laptop. If there’s one thing we all hate (I refuse to think that I am alone here!), it’s ridiculously long shopping queues!

The downside however, is that Internet shopping is not loved by everyone. We have arguably, substituted the long queues at the shops with the waiting times that invariably accompanies the courier delivery of our goods. Not to mention that when said courier does eventually turn up, the chances are that you are not at home…or that the product you bought isn’t suitable!  Furthermore, when it comes to grocery shopping, whether for the family or for your lunch break, the Internet is not always the answer. Cue Amazon, the Facilitate4Me Change Practitioner for January 2018, for opening a grab-and-go shopping experience with a supermarket with no checkout operators or self-service tills!

The ‘Amazon Go’ store, opened in Seattle on Monday 22nd January, is the first of its kind in shopping technology. Whilst self-service tills, adopted in all major supermarkets, was once seen as the biggest technological overhaul to ever hit the retail sector, Amazon has gone one further.

According to the BBC , the “Just Walk Out” shopping experience, allows customers to enter the store barriers, similar to those you would find on the London Underground, by swiping their smartphones loaded with the Amazon Go app. Once in, they can take items off the shelves, put them straight into their shopping bags (rather than a trolley or a basket), and walk out of the store. No trolley. No shopping basket. No money. No till and no angry store detective.

According to Amazon Go’s promotional video, a mixture of “computer vision, deep learning algorithms and sensor fusion, much like you’d find in a self-driving car”, is used to monitor customers as they enter and exit the store. The store uses hundreds of ceiling-mounted cameras and electronic sensors on the shelves to identify each customer and track the items they select. The items are added to customers’ Amazon Go account as they pick them up, and are deleted as they put them back. There are also weight sensors on the shelves to help indicate which item has been taken or put back, and some items carry a visual dot code, like a bar code, to help cameras identify them. An electronic receipt is then issued to the customer as they leave the store.

In spite of the plaudits that Amazon has received as a result of their new hi-tech store  however, the project has encountered some issues over security and accuracy in correctly identifying customers as they carry out their shopping. According to an Amazon insider, there were initially some teething problems with the technology in identifying shoppers of similar body types. Children moving items to the wrong places on shelves also caused some issues.

And what about shoplifting? The BBC article referenced one journalist who tried to shoplift some cans of soft drink. The system spotted this and charged them to his online bill!

Is this the future of retailing? Will the technology stand up to the pressures and difficulties that comes with a large footfall of customers on a regular basis? What impact will this change have on people and jobs within the retail supply chain? Only time will tell.

For now though, Facilitate4Me applauds Amazon for leading the field yet again.

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