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Just weeks after Amazon’s checkout-free store opened in America, Retail Express’s Louise Banham travelled to Seattle with PayPoint and two retailers to find out what it means for the future of convenience
What is Amazon Go? Amazon has spent the past year redefining the convenience market. It bought Whole Foods, restructured its grocery service Amazon Fresh to include kerbside pick-up and home delivery, and on 22 January launched its grab-and-go grocery store concept Amazon Go.
Amazon opened the Amazon Go concept store in Seattle to the general public after a year-long trial with its employees.
The store is fitted with Amazon’s ‘Just Walk Out’ technology, which is designed to make convenience store shopping as quick and convenient as it can possibly be. Thanks to hundreds of cameras and sensors placed around the shop and lining the ceiling that track each customer, shoppers can walk in, pick up the products they want and leave without passing a checkout.
Retail Express’s Louise Banham joined Steve O’Neill, group marketing director at PayPoint, Harris Aslam of Eros Retail in Fife, and Spar retailer Raj Aggarwal on a trip to Seattle to explore checkout-free shopping at Amazon Go and find out lessons you can take back to your store.
1. Use technology to free up your staff to give better service
Amazon Go is incredibly high-tech and has removed the need for checkouts, but it doesn’t scrimp on staffing, with lots of staff on hand to explain how the shop works, assist with enquiries and give shoppers information on products.
O’Neill says: “They’re using technology to free up staff so they can focus on what they do best, which is interacting and engaging with their customers. “If you’ve got EPoS, use it to better understand your customers and optimise what you’re doing. If you haven’t got EPoS you should get it as it will improve and speed up your processes.”
2. Make a great impression with fresh
As soon as customers walk up to Amazon Go they see a production line of staff through the windows, freshly preparing the sandwiches and salads that can be bought in store. It immediately gives shoppers confidence that what they’re going to buy is fresh and high quality.
“Fresh is so important to making a great first and lasting impression,” says O’Neill.
The theatre created by the open windows and visible kitchen staff is a big draw, says Aslam. “You know it’s fresh – there’s no marketing required.”
The shop also sells evening meal kits that can be made in 30 minutes. “With evening meal solutions, lunch solutions and breakfast, they’ve captured the key eating times of the day with a good range,” says Aggarwal.
3. Don’t rest on your laurels with local
Independent retailers are focusing more on providing customers with locally-sourced produce, but it’s not unique to them anymore. Multiples employ local people and stock local products, and Amazon Go does local fantastically, with fresh and ambient products throughout the shop.
“Multiples are getting involved in local – probably much better than your average independent retail store in the UK,” says Aslam. “So, do you really have local differentiation and where does your point of difference come in?
“We’ve got a window of opportunity. We need to look at our businesses and ask ourselves how we can get local aspects quicker and faster than the multiples.”
4. Showing customers your personality will strengthen your brand
Posters adorn the walls promoting how quickly customers can shop, there are colour-coded product recommendations on the top of fixtures and, in the handful of cases where they have run out of stock, quirky ‘so good it’s gone’ signs sit on the shelves where the products should be.
“There’s a great tone of voice and consistency of brand. It’s nothing new, but the execution of it is good,” says O’Neill.
“Retailers should show a bit of their personality. Whether that’s through your people, branding or messaging, showing your personality can make a difference.”
5. Use technology to be more convenient
While there are major challenges to convenience stores in trying to implement something like Just Walk Out technology, there are areas that can be focused on to get people in and out of the store quickly.
Aggarwal says: “Understand your most pressured times of the day and work out how to ease the pressure, such as opening more tills if you have them and using technology and training staff to serve people quicker. Don’t keep people waiting – they haven’t got time. But manage it and communicate it properly.”
Aslam adds: “You can’t wait around for an Amazon Go store to open up next to you. You need to deliver convenience as well as you can, but as quickly as you can. You can’t play catch up.”
Steve O’Neill, group marketing director, PayPoint
It’s a really slick concept and an interesting use of technology that means their people can focus on customer service, which is fuelling the customer experience
Harris Aslam, Eros Retail, Fife
We may not be able to implement Just Walk Out shopping tomorrow, but there are different aspects we can take. What they’ve achieved very well is changing the team to a customer-facing proposition. We can’t allow ourselves to be complacent
Raj Aggarwal, Spar Wigston and Sheffield
Although convenience store owners say we do customer service best, this concept store takes it to another level. If I can just put a little more effort into improving our customer service it will make a big difference
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