CHICAGO -- The year 2018 will be remembered as the dawn of frictionless retail, but for convenience stores, it has been a year spent pivoting toward the future.
Amazon Go, the e-retailer’s no-checkout store, opened its first location in Seattle in January this year, but Ricker’s announced it would offer a frictionless experience with Skip Checkout just seven months later. Since then, frictionless stores and solutions have opened or launched seemingly nonstop.
Frictionless checkout has been a popular topic for CSP readers this year, but it is only one part of a broad shift in thinking within convenience petroleum retail toward preparing for the inevitable technology-led changes in the way people shop, access information and find transportation.
Here are six forward-looking tech stories that turned heads in 2018 …
1. Cashless in Seattle
Less than a week after Amazon Go debuted in Seattle, CSP was there, covering not only the frictionless store but also AmazonFresh Pickup—the e-retailer’s grocery pickup service—and a cashless test site for Starbucks.
The store opened with a complete kitchen in the back and items Amazon Go has become known for, including its meal kits. Not much about Amazon Go has changed since the first location. Each new location that sells beer and wine includes an employee who physically hands customers their purchases from the other side of a partition, just as it was in the first unit.
CSP also visited a rival checkout-free concept store opened by technology firm Zippin' in San Francisco.
2. Is Microsoft building Amazon Go for Walmart?
Just five months after Amazon Go opened, Reuters published a report alleging that Microsoft was in talks with many retailers, including Walmart, to build a frictionless checkout system to challenge Amazon’s no-checkout concept.
Microsoft’s checkout system reportedly involves cameras attached to shopping carts, whereas Amazon’s small-footprint frictionless solution is primarily powered by cameras hanging from the ceiling. Walmart has experimented with a mobile-based self-checkout system that recently debuted in a futuristic Sam’s Club unit, but no public progress has been made with Microsoft’s frictionless system.
3. The suburban c-store of the future
Digital commerce program provider Stuzo has big, disruptive ideas about the future. One of its boldest is its suburban Future Vision, a model of what c-stores outside cities might look like in about a decade.
The result looks more like an Apple Store than a modern convenience store. The concept includes both gasoline fueling and electric charging, a separate drive-thru lane for autonomous vehicles and, of course, an entirely frictionless interior with no human employees.
4. Ricker's launches mobile checkout
Ricker’s announcement to adopt Skip Checkout was the first shot fired in the C-Store War Against Friction. Since the deal between Ricker’s and Skip, the mobile-checkout supplier has integrated with multiple c-store suppliers and continued to sign retailer contracts.
Others in the c-store space, including Pinnacle, have also released their own frictionless checkout apps.
5. PayPal CEO gets serious at Outlook
Winsight’s 2018 Outlook conference in San Jose, Calif., was filled with speakers pointing out which direction the future is headed, and few were as sobering as PayPal CEO Dan Schulman. “There are two types of businesses: those who have been hacked and those who do not know they’ve been hacked,” Schulman said.
He also made some bold predictions about the future of transportation. “Autonomous cars will definitely be a reality as soon as five years in sunny, good weather locations, and maybe 10 to 15 years in locations with worse weather,” he said, a sentiment echoed the next day by Stuzo founder and CEO Gunter Pfau.
6. Could there be 3,000 Amazon Go stores by 2021?
Bloomberg seems to think it’s a possibility. The business news outlet released a report in September claiming Amazon was considering opening 3,000 Amazon Go stores by 2021.
When CSP asked for comment, a spokesperson from Amazon responded with its classic nonanswer, “We don’t comment on rumors or speculation”—which is not a denial.
Are 3,000 Amazon Go stores actually on the way? Who knows? But that didn’t stop Skip Checkout from claiming it would bring its frictionless checkout technology to 3,000 stores by 2019, two years earlier than Amazon.