It's been called a game-changer. The new face of retail. A paradigm-shifter of a store. Too good to be true.
It's the Amazon Go pilot store in Seattle, a new concept in which cashiers and checkouts have been replaced by strategically placed recognition sensors, cameras and microphones that rely on machine learning and artificial intelligence technologies. Undoubtedly disruptive to the retail sector, Amazon Go's approach also has the potential to change mobile marketing as dramatically as it might alter the retail experience.
Built on Amazon's "Just Walk Out" technology, the store is now being tested by Amazon.com employees and will open to the public in early 2017.
Upon entering the store, shoppers check in via the Amazon Go app and let technology take over. Sensors keep track of items and virtual shopping carts in real time as shoppers take products off the shelves…or put them back. The Amazon Go website explains what happens next: "When you're done shopping, you can just leave the store. Shortly after, we'll charge your Amazon account and send you a receipt." Could shopping be any simpler?
The Start of Something Big and Beautiful
While Amazon is attracting current media attention, a similar store has been operating for almost a year in the small town of Viken, Sweden. It was the brainchild of Robert Iljason, a father who had to drive 20 miles late one night to find an open store that sold baby food. The IT specialist opened a smaller store in his village that sells basic necessities and operates solely by smartphone. Customers register for the service, download the app, check into the store via smartphone, and let the app track their purchases and invoice them monthly.
Innovators elsewhere are streamlining the retail process. Payments specialist Ingenico's latest white paper, "Rise of the Machine Shopper," envisions a retail world in which gas stations and parking lots deploy license-plate recognition technology to handle payment transactions, or fitness centers monitor fees (and workouts) by connecting to members' wearables and fitness trackers.
What does this new wave of real-time technology mean for mobile marketers?
Driven by Data…the More, the Better
First and foremost, it means more data, because the very interactions supported by Amazon Go rely heavily on vast amounts of real-time, in-the-moment data. Marketers must be able to collect, analyze and integrate these new sources of data into their marketing campaigns and messages in order to establish and maintain meaningful relationships with customers.
This new retail framework also impacts the time that mobile marketers have to make connections. Consumers gain valuable time by skipping the checkout, but marketers lose previous seconds from the "mobile moment of opportunity" to communicate with customers as they browse and buy. "Real time" in the Amazon Go model is honest-to-goodness real time, here and now, before the customer leaves.
Already cognizant of the importance of communications that are relevant, timely and personal, marketers will have to up their game to make sure their mobile marketing platforms, and the data that feeds into them, are as real-time and optimal as possible. Perhaps predictive marketing will become even more important in this new environment, simply because the actual act of shopping will (theoretically) be so much more streamlined for customers.
How Personal and Real Time Can Marketing Dare to Go?
The Amazon Go model also touches on privacy and personalization issues. A Pew Research Center survey in 2016 found that up to half of Americans are willing to "share personal information or permit surveillance in return for getting something of perceived value."
But how personal should shopping get, especially if technology is able to monitor each and every consumer activity. Would a "timely" message that tries to influence a consumer's choice as he or she considers a particular coffee brand, for instance, feel helpful…or creepy?
Lots of questions emerge about mobile marketing in this new retail era, and the answers will be elusive as the concept plays out. Whether Amazon Go is a success or not, the seeds for a new mobile-enabled, real-time retail experience have been planted, and what sprouts up in the next few years is anyone's guess.
But what's clear is that shopping as we know it is undergoing a profound change. Starting in 2017, shoppers who experience Amazon Go for the first time will have to adjust to an entirely new way of shopping and buying – and my guess is that it will be hard to go back.
This new era of tech-enabled retailing raises the ante for mobile marketers, too. They'll also have to adjust, refine and modernize to find new ways of connecting with their customers.