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Supermarket without cash register: Amazon shows where the journey is going

Retailers should make it easy for customers – and at the same time get to know them better

I don’t know about you, but I’m one of the many people who enjoy shopping. It has become a little ritual for me to drive to the supermarket with my children on Saturdays to get our purchases for the coming week. As I stroll along the aisles, my kids put the chocolate in the shopping cart for me, which I’ll pay for later, of course. What puts a damper on our shopping experience on a regular basis, is the annoying wait in line at the checkout for what seems like forever – at this point I often wish I had stayed at home.

Of course, I am not alone in thinking this. We all have to queue in the supermarket or other stores to pay for our eggs or T-shirt at the checkout – but probably not for long. Amazon has recognized the problem and this week opened its first supermarket in the US with no checkouts. Simply put the goods in the basket, leave the store, and your purchase is complete.

It may sound simple, but technologically, it’s quite complex. Visitors log in at the entrance via the Amazon Go app with a QR code and are then tracked at every step. Hundreds of cameras are stationed throughout the barely 200 square meter store, and sensors register which items the shoppers take off the shelf and actually put in the cart. The goods do not have to be directly registered by the cameras, assure those responsible at Amazon, whose system does not require face recognition. The visitors, who log out at the exit, are only detected as 3D objects. So much effort for a customer experience that is unrivalled in the bricks-and-mortar business.

I find it fascinating how far technology has come. The fact that the opening was postponed again and again, because there were a few glitches, reveals the complexity behind it; yet Amazon shows where the journey is going: on the one hand, shopping is made as easy as possible for the customer; on the other hand, traders get to know their customers better and can thus make their marketing ever more targeted.

Of course, the online giant does not admit it, but this is what it will ultimately be about. The customer journey, of which large companies such as Amazon online now have a good overview, will be enriched with data from the offline business. The customer, who registers with the app at the entrance, will for sure not only get the bill to his e-mail address, but also offers about products that really interest him, thanks to the data analysis. If that’s not even a contemporary omnichannel strategy, then I don’t know what is.

It won’t be long before Amazon has physical stores in Europe. Paris and London were already in talks last year; in Germany too, the first supermarkets should soon be coming. So maybe it will not be that long before I can steer my cart directly to the car on Saturday, without having to stand in an endless line with my children at the checkout. The fact that Amazon can suggest the appropriate products to me and can ask me right away if I need detergent again, is no bad thing.

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