SEATTLE -- Speculation about the online retailer’s brick-and-mortar ambitions have hounded Amazon since it announced its plans for a “no-pay” convenience store in Seattle in December.
The smart c-store concept allows customers to grab items and leave without stopping by a cashier or self-checkout center to pay. Shoppers only need a smartphone with the Amazon Go app to enter. Sensors detect when an item is taken from the shelves and by whom, and a receipt is sent to the customer's Amazon account after they leave the store.
On March 27, the flurry of speculation surrounding Seattle-based Amazon’s plans for physical stores faced another wrinkle, as the Wall Street Journal reported that plans to open Amazon Go to the public by the end of March 2017 have hit a snag due to technical issues.
Read on for a recap of the recent announcements and rumors about Amazon’s goals for real-world shopping, and what news of the delay means for the online retailer …
Rumors from the New York Post swirled in February that Amazon is not stopping at c-stores, but that it plans on building smart grocery stores, units with a similar purpose but a larger footprint and selection than Amazon Go.
The Post said that the store would be operated mostly by robots, and that its labor and real-estate savings were projected to allow operating profit margins of more than 20%. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos quickly took to Twitter to refute the rumors.
Groceries and go
Earlier this month, CSP Daily News reported on new details uncovered by GeekWire about Amazon’s grocery pickup stop, reportedly titled AmazonFresh Pickup. GeekWire reported the details after outside signage was uncovered at the store and construction progressed.
Some signage by parking spots in front of the stores appeared to be motion-activated, giving clues to how the unit’s grocery pickup might work.
Last week, Amazon opened another data-driven bookstore, its first in Chicago, widening its brick-and-mortar reach.
Over the weekend, The New York Times reported that Amazon is considering opening stores to sell furniture, refrigerators and other home appliances consumers like to see in person before they make a purchase. The stores could serve as showrooms and the products could be delivered to customers’ homes after their purchase.
Virtual or augmented reality could play a role in Amazon’s retail ambitions, The Times also reported. The technology could allow consumers to see how couches, stoves and other appliances would fit and look in their homes before purchasing them.
Do not pass go
Which brings us to the report on March 27 that Amazon Go’s public unveiling faces a delay.
The in-store tracking technology that powers Amazon Go’s cashier-less checkout system reportedly encounters problems when tracking more than about 20 people at one time. The technology functions fine if the crowd of customers is small or if they are moving slowly, but large, fast-moving crowds are just about guaranteed during the c-store’s opening, and a technical glitch at launch would be a big embarrassment for the project.
It is unclear what if any effect the delay will have on Amazon’s brick-and-mortar plans. Regardless, the hold on Amazon Go illustrates the challenges the online retailer faces to continue to innovate and modernize the physical retail experience.