The only thing I see as “devolving” is the physicality of Amazon’s new grocery store, which I understand is kind of the whole argument, but I think there’s a lot more to a store than simply its tangibility. The model is very different and more advanced than a traditional brick and mortar store. With Amazon’s store, Amazon Go, you are not required to interact with anyone, nor are you required to wait in line: kind of like what we love about Internet shopping. Amazon’s goal is to provide the ideal shopping experience: a goal toward which they are constantly working, so this means that what Amazon has determined (through whatever data mining they’re doing over there) to be the next level of the ideal shopping convenience is a cashierless grocery store. I don’t think it’s far-fetched at all to say that Amazon Go is simply an Internet store in a brick and mortar manifestation. Rather than a devolution, perhaps we can think of it as a “best of both worlds” situation, and at the very least, we as consumers now have even more choice in how we decide to carry out our shopping habits.
While we know that the Amazon Go stores will come fully-equipped with cameras to document our every shopping move, it is not clear what Amazon plans to do with the data they collect. Like I touched on in a previous blog post, people are growing more and more comfortable (or maybe the right word is “submissive”?) to Internet giants gathering and using their data. For this reason I think a Big-Brother-type Amazon store plastered with cameras will not scare the public as much as we think it’s going to. It comes down to a cost–benefit analysis, and I think that the convenience the store promises may just outweigh inconvenience of sharing one’s personal information. By sharing our data we are allowing Amazon to make our shopping process even more personalized and streamlined: something that does not go unvalued by the consumer.
Just because Amazon has opened a grocery store, and just because I predict that it will be successful, doesn’t mean that this model will work in all instances. Groceries are an excellent example of something that is difficult to buy online. No one wants their bananas bumping around in a delivery truck; fresh produce, meat, and baked goods do very well sold in a brick and mortar store, despite the inconvenience of leaving one’s home. Another superiority of brick and mortars is the case of trying on clothes before buying. Currently, we do not have a perfect system in place that allows us to do this with Internet shopping alone (although try-before-you-buy retailing methods are gaining traction these days). In the cases of fresh food and trying things on before committing to a purchase, a brick and mortar store is superior, but it may not be in all cases. A cost–benefit analysis usually winds up with people doing a lot of their shopping from home in the comfort of their pyjamas. This is why Internet shopping became popular in the first place, and I don’t know if people are going to swarm to a brick and mortar store for the streamlined shopping experience alone.
Although we think of an Internet shopping model as being “the future,” that doesn’t mean we have to think that it comes at the expense of brick and mortar stores. They both have their place in the market. We shop online because we like the peace of mind that comes with not leaving the house. We shop in stores because we like our food fresh, and we like to try on clothes before committing. Amazon is doing its part to bridge these two shopping models, but for now they remain separate, and each valuable in their own ways.