Bryan Roberts; Retail Insights Director, tcc global

Lionel Messi is awesome. Lovely to observe and technically wonderful. But every time I see him, I think: ‘Yes, but could he do that on a wet Tuesday night at Canvey Island?’

Amazon Go is awesome. Lovely to observe and technically wonderful. But every time I see it, I think: ‘Yes, but could it do that with a busy mum of three on a wet Tuesday night in Scottsbluff, Nebraska?’

The answer to the former is probably yes; the answer to the latter is probably no. Clearly, I’m being facetious, but I can’t help feeling that a lot of the reaction I’ve been reading, about a game-changing development that will have supermarkets on their knees, has been a little overcooked.

On the plus side, I believe that the masterful way in which Amazon has gathered together different technologies to minimise friction in the shopper experience is just brilliant. And hopefully, Amazon Go will be a harbinger for other retailers to continue their endeavours to reduce friction in the shopper journeys for their customers. Yet once again, Amazon is to be applauded for its devotion to customer experience and its application of the latest innovations to make that experience a spiffing one.

On the location side, if scalability and a roll-out are on the agenda, then Scottsbluff (no offence) probably won’t be on the agenda. Amazon will no doubt exploit its Prime membership data to work out which urban centres and university/office campuses will support an Amazon Go. Playing to tech-savvy and time-pressed shoppers is obviously something Amazon is amazing at doing.

However, I feel that the use of the word ‘queueless’ might be a tad rose-tinted. With the best will in the world, if 150 people descend on the store at the same time for their quinoa & spelt flatbreads, I’m reasonably convinced that some form of chaos will ensue.

I’m also not 100% on the implications for supermarkets. As far as I can ascertain, Amazon Go appears to be a tech-enabled food-to-go concept: the offspring of an unlikely union between Greggs and Battlestar Galactica. So, until such time I’m assured that I can go into Amazon Go and walk out with 40 Marlboro, a bulk pack of Twinkies and some cat litter, I’m not sure that many c-store or supermarket CEOs should be crying themselves to sleep just yet.

Don’t get me wrong, Amazon is already hugely important in the world of grocery retailing and is only set to become more influential: It will definitely be one of a handful of enterprises that stand astride the global distribution of consumables within the next decade, dwarfing many long-established convenience, supermarket and discount operators.

Fact is though, despite our love of talking about e-commerce, physical stores still rule for most shoppers, particularly in grocery. For this reason, I’m prepared to wager that the only real game-changer we’re about to see in US grocery in the medium term is the entry of Lidl. Amazon will become a grocery giant, but I’m not sure Amazon Go is the way that’s going to happen.

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