Paul Skeldon, Mobile Editor, Internet Retailing investigates how mobile innovation is changing retailing around the world.
The Amazon Go store phenomenon is a big deal for retailers. It showcases just what is possible with the right technology and very deep pockets. But this example of US mobile-in-store retailing has had a curious effect: it has spawned a host of services that aim to ape what the Seattle giant is doing, but with existing technology.
And this has become something of a global sport, with retailers around the globe all taking elements of what Amazon Go has spent literally hundreds of millions of dollars trying to achieve, but with pretty much off-the-shelf technologies.
Very much looking to ape the pioneering work of Amazon – and to set itself up as a ‘groovy’ retail brand in the mould of Apple – Europe’s largest consumer electronics retailer, MediaMarktSaturn in Austria, has opened the first cashier-less electronics store.
Powered by MishiPay’s technology, the store – located in the popular Sillpark shopping centre in Innsbruk – promises customers an immersive shopping experience that’s faster and more convenient and simpler than traditional shops. Moreover, it delivers, using fairly standard and available technology, one of the biggest draws of the Amazon Go store: you don’t have to queue to pay.
“MediaMarktSaturn sees itself as partner, navigator and daily companion for consumers in the digital world. Therefore, we provide seamless customer experience across all channels. Our cashier-less store with MishiPay is a highly-relevant pilot project. And it’s one of the first projects resulting from our innovation platform Retailtech Hub,” declares Martin Wild, Chief Innovation Officer of the MediaMarktSaturn Retail Group.
“The launch of Saturn Express is another solid step in our journey to revolutionise in-store,” says CEO of MishiPay, Mustafa Khanwala. “By launching Europe’s first cashier-less store Saturn Express, MediaMarktSaturn, is leading by example for every retailer in the world. It’s a clear path forward to step-up their in-store journey by bringing the best of the online checkout experience to the physical store, using our Scan, Pay and Leave technology.”
He adds: “The fact that this is the only checkout method in the store, is an amazing step towards this goal and a testament to Saturn’s brand, that puts customer experience at the forefront of Innovation.”
Already in the UK, Co-op and Sainsbury’s have both moved towards offering a checkout free experience as they too look at the aspects of Amazon Go’s pioneering store they can replicate without breaking the bank.
Sainsbury’s smartphone app is still a work in progress, but was previously trialled at Sainsbury’s London Euston station store with shoppers who purchased the supermarket’s £3 ‘on the go’ meal-deal, which consists of a sandwich or salad, side and a drink. Consumers involved in the experiment were asked to download the app to their smartphones and scan their three items of choice from the meal-deal incentive, before paying within the app itself and walking out the brick-and-mortar store.
“We are always looking for new ways to help our customers live well – and saving customers time is one way we can do so,” says Natalie Dunn, Sainsbury’s head of customer experience. “Experimenting with a checkout-free experience is a first for Sainsbury’s and for many of our customers, so we are keen to understand how we can take the concept and develop an offering that is genuinely useful for those who shop with us. We may be some way off from rolling this out – but we’re excited to have taken the first step.”
Similarly at the Co-op, time-pressed shoppers will soon be able to pay in the aisle and avoid visiting a till all together as they use their own phone to purchase goods at the Co-op with an innovative App built with Mastercard’s secure digital payments expertise.
The ‘shop, scan and go’ initiative is being trialled at the Co-op’s store located at the retailer’s support centre in Manchester, with a wider roll-out beginning as early as this summer which is expected to include a further trial at the Co-op’s store located in the UK HQ of Microsoft.
Matthew Speight, Director of Retail Support at the Co-op, explains: “Our ambition is to harness technology to deliver the shopping experience that our diverse customer-base requires – when, where and how they need it.”
He continues: “It is all about consumer choices and convenience. We listen to our Members and customers and we are investing in our stores, people, prices, products and technology. We recognise there are many communities where customers pop in to their local Co-op and enjoy a friendly chat – it is all part of the service. Whereas for others, perhaps with a train to catch or on a school run, every second can count as consumers seek increased convenience.”
This consumer move towards convenience, however, is having an even more profound impact on retail. Shoppers are increasingly wanting to ‘see, find, buy’ items, rather than searching things out: they want to buy the things they see around themselves and in the media.
This is leading to what is becoming known as ‘distributed retail’, where entities other than retailers are starting to sell stuff. One example of this is gaining traction in the US. eBay has partnered with both geek news site Mashable and world-famous publisher Time Inc, to allow consumers reading content on either site or in Time magazine to buy the items and ‘looks’ they see therein.
Combining Mashable’s expert recommendations with the consumer discovery power of eBay, the partnership allows Mashable’s audience to use eBay to shop, browse and purchase products matching those featured on Mashable – all without ever leaving the Mashable site.
The companies have focused on a mobile-first experience that is as friction-free as possible for the audience and so far 65% of traffic to the widget has come via a mobile or tablet. The desktop experience is also as seamless as possible.
Dan Burdett, Head of eBay EMEA Marketing Lab explains: “We know a lot about how people shop on our site, but less about how they shop off it, so we wanted to bring a simplified shopping experience that brings products to Mashable’s passionate audience rather than expect them to come to us”.
A similar process is underway at Time Inc. with eBay developing a mobile-optimised, AI-powered shopping experience that allows shoppers to buy direct from photos of celebrity influencers in bespoke fashion articles that feature shoppable images of celebrities wearing the latest trends that can all be purchased on eBay.
Murray Lambell, Vice President of UK Trading at eBay, explains: “Our latest pilot creates a simplified yet appealing shopping experience that brings clothing to life in a new and exciting way. We know that celebrity style shopping leads to high engagement and now, visitors will be able to shop the latest celebrity trends, brands and luxe items for less.”
He adds: “By applying Time Inc’s exclusive content to eBay’s AI technology and inventory – eBay have created a unique and memorable shopping experience that speaks to its audience.”
Each article will be based on a particular trend and feature four shoppable images of celebrities sporting the style. Using eBay’s adapted ‘Shop the Look’ technology launched in 2016, consumers will be able to hover over the celebrity images and click on the shopping tags to find the matching items on eBay, or affordable alternatives.
SOCIAL & SEARCH COMMERCE
While Amazon Go seeks to revolutionise the in-store experience, the move by eBay towards distributed retail is part of a wider move that is reshaping what constitutes an ecommerce platform.
eBay is seeking to make publications a platform for the sale, while sitting behind it feeding it with goods. Google has similar plans. It is planning to turn its search offerings into shoppable search results. Sick, one can probably assume, of serving up millions of customers to Amazon, the search giant is planning to make search results shoppable – you see it, you find it, you buy it: all on Google.
This – and Amazon and eBay – also faces stiff competition from social media platforms, particularly Instagram and Pinterest: both of which are looking to make it easier for brands to turn their postings into sales.
This too shakes up what online retail means. The days when branded retailers set up a cool site and a mobile app may be numbered as Google, eBay, Instagram and Pinterest join Amazon in becoming a new way to sell. Increasingly, the retail brand is perhaps less important than the goods they sell. Many – outside of key destination brands – are possibly going to be relegated to suppliers to this new world order of retail.
This has an impact on stores too. While they are less likely to be swallowed up to the same extent (or, rather, Amazon, eBay, Instagram and Pinterest are less likely to open swathes of stores), they will be threatened by new retail modes from disruptors. We started by looking at Amazon Go shaking up the retail space, but there will be others and they will have some great new ideas as to how stores operate from a customer perspective.
Those that are trying new ways to make that experience better are stealing a march on the rest and perhaps even doing more for their long term survival than even they themselves perhaps realise.
The Amazon Go phenomenon is indeed a big deal – but there is more at stake here than just creating a headline-grabbing new store with technology: this is the battle for traditional retail as we know it.