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Will Amazon Go Become Table-Stakes Technology in Retail?

Amazon Go’s seamless store experience could become table stakes in retail if the e-commerce giant monetizes the platform and makes it available to retailers.

That’s how Loup Ventures managing partner Andrew Murphy, who owns Amazon stock, sees Amazon’s cashier-less store experiment evolving in the near future. Amazon already has a history of taking a platform approach to products such as it Amazon Web Services and Fulfilled by Amazon (FBA), and Go could follow suit. That’s because according to Murphy, with a $50 billion market opportunity to replace cashiers with the platform, and its own current brick-and-mortar footprint limited to Whole Foods and a small fleet of book shops and campus stores, it simply doesn’t make sense for Amazon to invest considerable time and resources in developing the high-tech store experience if the end goal isn’t to license it out to others.

For now, gas station and convenience stores seem to be best positioned for the Amazon Go tech stack, which is said to combine computer vision and cameras with weights and sensors to track items that customers—who open the Amazon app upon entering the Go store—pick up and put back onto store shelves. The “purchase” is completed when customers walk out of the store, at which time Amazon charges the credit or debit card stored in their account.

Because Amazon Go leverages a complex system of cameras trained on each specific item, the tech experience is limited at the moment to very specific assortments and layouts. When a single-serve blueberry Chobani sells out, for example, staff can’t just fill the empty space with Dannon of the same flavor. That’s because the cameras are expecting only blueberry Chobani to fill that specific shelf space—so staff instead drop a “sold out” sign where the product should be.

“They can’t reorganize the store on the fly,” Murphy said, “until they recode or reprogram the system.”

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Murphy envisions the Amazon Go technology developing to accommodate apparel, though again, products would have to be grouped according to price. For example, plus sizes—which typically are priced higher than their straight-size equals—could not share a rack with missy because the camera couldn’t distinguish between a size S and a 3X if they were priced differently. Still, Murphy said it’s likely that the Amazon Go experience would be applicable one day to a branded store like Nike.

Amazon recently announced that Go would be expanding from its current single location in Seattle to several additional locations, including Los Angeles, later this year. Scaling up will enable Amazon to gather more valuable data, Murphy said. “Then they’ll be able to refine the tech, expand the use cases and eventually in time you’ll see it at Whole Foods.”

If Amazon Go technology becomes “standard” across the Whole Foods chain, regional grocers would have to figure out how to keep up, and they could find themselves backed into a “forced marriage with Amazon,” Murphy noted.

“Just like mom-and-pop retailers today use FBA, they compete with Amazon but are also a customer,” Murphy explained. “The same relationship could evolve with this technology.”

As retailers of all stripes strive to increase convenience for their shoppers, upgrading the checkout experience could a natural, and necessary, evolution to serve increasingly digital consumers. Companies like Aifi and Standard Cognition are developing similar technologies that streamline shopping and payment in stores and likely hoping to ride the coattails of Amazon Go’s success.

“The payment experience is essentially the same for every retailer,” Murphy said. “It’s become table stakes to have cashiers. I think Amazon Go is just a shift to a new norm.

“If you have to wait in line to pay, you’re not going to go to that store anymore,” he said.