When Amazon announced cashier-free stores in 2016, I marveled at its Just Walk Out technology with IoT-enabled sensors. I also fully expected that Amazon would eventually offer the technology as a white-labeled service to other retailers.
At the same time, I was also very conscious that what Amazon had really done was to blend existing technologies together – why had no one else done this?
Sainsbury’s is the first UK-based store to deploy the technology as a service, with its walk-out store in London. Sainsbury’s has been experimenting with self-scanning technology, seeking to eliminate the single biggest form of friction in retail shopping – queuing to pay.
Other retailers are also clearly looking to eliminate friction in stores – Tesco launched its “Get Go” store in October – in partnership with Trigo. But I wonder if established grocers are missing an opportunity by using third-party technology?
Of course, Sainsbury’s will own the app that customers need to download to use the store (and the data), but Amazon will still be able to monitor store traffic and customer behavior and can use the data to further improve the technology – and possibly even to better compete with its own customers.
With hindsight, it would have been great if major grocers had been able to collaborate to build the technology themselves – perhaps by co-investing in a tech-driven joint venture. A great example is this type of cooperation is that between Audi AG, BMW Group and Daimler AG, which in 2015 agreed with Nokia Corporation on the joint acquisition of HERE digital mapping business.
The group wanted long-term availability of an open, independent platform for cloud-based maps and other mobility services – accessible to all customers from the automotive industry and other sectors. The partners wanted to ensure high-precision maps that they could tailor and constantly improve. This was not available from third-party providers such as Google Maps, which work to their own schedules and requirements for upgrading and updating.
DIY leading edge technology
For retailers in IoT attempting to emulate Amazon’s Just Walk Out technology, it is imperative that they can connect, sense, correlate and automate all the customer experiences. Only then can you add value by increasing intelligence and reducing manual effort.
Amazon Go is unlikely to be the last disruptive technology introduced by Amazon (despite getting there first) – and there is nothing wrong with being a fast follower. If collaborating with others helps you get their faster and cheaper, then everyone wins.
Working with other companies, vendors, and even competitors can give you an edge – one where you have more control, for example over your data. Co-opetition – that much-used but rarely achieved term – can be highly beneficial for all concerned. From a technology perspective, keeping things open and agnostic allows you to bring in new partners and technologies as needed – to further enhance the outcomes.
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