We live near a grocery store which has unattended checkout lanes. A nearby Walmart has them, too. They’re not really unattended, though, as perhaps a dozen of the self-checking stands are monitored and serviced by an employee.
Amazon just launched a checkout-free grocery store. That’s right. No checkout line. We all knew this was coming; a day when we could walk into a store, buy what we want, and just leave. All the transaction scans would be automated. Could Apple do that?
Scan. Pay. Carry.
Amazon’s CEO and founder, Jeff Bezos, fancies himself as a latter day Steve Jobs who brought Apple to greatness. Twice. Jobs was willing to take risks and bet the farm. Bezos does that, too, forgoing profits to launch new products and services. And buy Whole Foods.
That brings me to Amazon Go. It’s a grocery store. There is no checkout line. Instead, the store has hundreds of cameras and sensors and a new Amazon application and the whole package of employee-less purchases is called Just Walk Out.
Think about a store where you can walk in, select a product, scan it with your smartphone application– which records the amount and deducts it from your credit card– and lets you walk out.
Walk into any Apple Store and what do you see? A moving sea of t-shirt clad Apple employees; shirts with whatever color Apple has for that day of the week. If there is one thing that separates an Apple Store from other gadget retailers it’s the number of employees.
While I don’t expect an Apple Store to become completely like Amazon Go, Apple already has a similar purchase option in place where you can use the Apple Store app to buy a product and just walk out. So, why are there so many employees at an Apple Store and so few at Amazon Go?
It might be the same reason the self check out stands at the grocery store, Walmart, and elsewhere still use the standard checkout line with a cashier. People like people. People handle variances in transactions faster (the real slowdown at a checkout line is the customer, amirite?). Apple, of course, needs employees to staff the Genius Bar and perform training.
One thing you don’t see much of in a grocery store is interaction between customer and employee– at least until they meet in the checkout line. Apple Stores are different as interaction is the name of the game.
Let’s look ahead a few years when the automated checkout process has become more popular and commonplace. Let’s look ahead to a time when Apple sells a walking talking robot– a Siri with a face, a device that strolls the Apple Store looking to help customers. Can such devices replace Apple Store employees?
We’ll see. And we may see it soon if Amazon Go catches on. For now, Amazon’s new Just Walk Out technology is proprietary. Amazon manages the cameras and sensors. Amazon publishes the application you use on the smartphone to scan products and take payments. All those pieces have to work well and feel seamless for this new disruption to take over retail sales.
An Apple Store without employees? No. It won’t happen. But an Apple Store with fewer employees is on the way.