What Convenience Store Operators Can Learn from Amazon Go

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By Jill Carte - 05/01/2019

In September 2018, Amazon opened its fourth Amazon Go store, this time in Chicago.  If convenience store operators assumed there would be long lines of people eagerly awaiting the store opening, they would be wrong.

Instead, there was quite a bit of hesitancy among potential shoppers. Many just had too many questions and concerns about the store to rush right in.  Flashing through lots of minds were questions such as these:

  • How does the store work? 
  • Will there be anyone there to help me? 
  • Do I need a credit card or do they take cash?
  • Will I look like a fool trying to figure everything out?

Eventually, Chicagoans bought in.  According to the Chicago Tribune, they discovered a store selling “grab-and-go food items designed to let busy shoppers skip the checkout line, and just walk out.” In fact, Amazon calls the experience of shopping in these stores “walk out shopping.”

Walk out shopping begins as soon as someone enters the store, when they scan the Amazon Go app.  The app includes necessary shopper information, including the user’s credit card for charges.

However, a lot is going on behind the scenes that shoppers likely are not aware of, and Amazon has kept tight lips about much of the background technology in these outlets. 

We do know that the when customers place something in their shopping basket or cart, motion detectors are triggered to charge the customer’s credit card account, but some other theoretical functions of the technology include:

  • Facial recognition software that maps a shopper’s facial expressions and records the moment when, for instance, a shopper’s face “lights up” upon seeing a product they like.   
  • Evaluation of shopping patterns and habits, such as how long it takes shoppers to shop, whether most shoppers walk clockwise or counterclockwise through the store and why they shop as they do.
  • The determination of how often shoppers read food labels that  indicate the ingredients used to make the many grab-and-go food items marketed in the store.

So, what is really going on here?  Are these stores designed for shopping or collecting shopper data?  It appears it is some of both.

Determining how shoppers shop could help Amazon determine how many people must staff each store.  Technology also helps food service operators, especially those providing grab-and-go food items, to quickly learn which products makes a shopper’s face light up. If their product is greeted with a frown instead of a smile, it gives them an opportunity to do something about it.

For example, what if those frowns are because a food item has too much fat, cholesterol or sodium in it?

Many convenience store operations now use kitchen automation systems that give operators the ability to quickly and efficiently change grab-and-go food recipes and labels. With DayMark Safety Systems’ MenuPilot platform, for example, changes to data are centrally-managed, then relayed to each store location via the cloud and accessed with the MenuPilot app. The app wirelessly connects to an in-store label printer via a Bluetooth connection.

It is likely, over time, that convenience store operators will get more insight into the shopper data collected at these Amazon Go store locations.

The data collected will not only help Amazon, but convenience store operators as well. Operators will better understand how shoppers shop. If a shopper, for instance, disapproves of ingredients in a grab-and-go food item, operators can quickly and easily implement a recipe—and subsequent label—change with an assist from the store’s kitchen automation system.

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