Amazon Go: retail’s future and new personalization challenges

Amazon Go flagship store in Seattle

When Amazon opened its first cashier-free Amazon Go store last month, it changed the game for retailers. Through its non-traditional history—first becoming an online powerhouse and then moving to brick-and-mortar—Amazon is primed to bring the ease of “one-click” shopping to the in-store experience, pushing the existing retail model into the future.

The cashier-less store brings with it a new focus for retailers: how to provide a personalized, human experience without the human. Early reviews are mixed. Many Amazon Go-goers are pleased with the store’s efficiency and lack of long lines, while others have recognized how it has made the in-store shopping experience feel more impersonal due to the hundreds of cameras that line the ceiling and a number of sensors on the shelves taking the place of checkout counters.

A less obvious customer concern is that the easier it is to shop, the harder it is to budget. Since Amazon Go stores let shoppers pay with the touch of an app instead of handing over cash or swiping credit cards, how much a shopper spends easily becomes an afterthought.

The concept introduced by Amazon Go does not eliminate the need for “the human touch” — whether it be an actual human or a machine. Instead, it inspires retailers to find new ways to engage with customers using technology and data to inform that experience. We have already seen this happen in the contact center as companies have evolved from traditional call centers to provide an omnichannel customer experience. Much like how the digitization of the contact center was driven by consumer adoption of social channels and virtual assistants, Amazon Go delivers yet another disruption and highlights the importance of the human connection as more technology makes its way into the customer journey.

Personalization without people

The move to automated brick-and-mortar stores calls for a shift in personalization efforts from retailers, including:

  • New ways to interact with technology: without cashiers to talk to, shoppers will look for innovative channels that allow them to communicate with the brand using in-store technology.
  • The need for a more skilled workforce: while technology may be able to handle checkout, customers will rely more heavily on the people behind the machines to help them with unique, complex issues that aren't solved via data or bots.
  • Personalized tools to meet new concerns: for things like budgeting wisely, consumers will look to retailers to provide new apps or technology to alleviate the worries they create.

While Amazon has taken cashiers out of its stores, the e-commerce giant—along with the companies expected to follow suit—will continue to emphasize the significant role of people in the shopping experience. Retailers should be warned that relying on “human-less” customer service can affect customer satisfaction, as, according to Accenture, 83% of US consumers still prefer dealing with human beings.

The key is to translate those valuable face-to-face moments into digital experiences that provide the same level of service and give shoppers the human interaction they crave in an increasingly digital world. Where a cashier might have engaged a customer in the checkout line and created a lasting impression, in the world of Amazon Go, retailers will need to evolve the tactics previously used to build customer loyalty. This could mean providing an alternative way for customers to get support while in store, like installing chatbots on the shelves for shoppers to ask questions.

Digitized retail stores also complicate the role of customer service employees who are there to back up the technology when things go wrong. Whereas a customer might deal with a chatbot to get easily reimbursed for a mischarged item, technology will not be able to solve unique customer difficulties or provide a personalized solution to those problems. For businesses, this means rethinking the role of customer service agents and the training they receive. In many cases, companies will need to hire for a more technical skill set to be able to address such issues for customers who likely weren’t anticipating the need to speak with someone in the first place.

Along with the new customer complexities, such as being unable to budget wisely with one-click buying, retailers will look to increase loyalty with customers by meeting expectations of hyper-personalization at every turn. Customized apps designed to help a shopper stay on budget, or alerts that notify users when their most frequently bought items are on sale, are options retailers operating all via mobile app will look to provide consumers. Technology will enable these companies to “learn” customers’ habits and lifestyles, and do things like proactively build their grocery lists based on how often they have purchased items in the past.

In a digital world, retailers will need the human connection shoppers still want at times. Amazon Go is still in its infancy, and consumer expectations will continue to change and grow along with the retail model.

However, one thing remains: personalization and human interaction will continue to provide value for shoppers. Rich with new sources of customer data, the retailers of the future will be more than prepared to create experiences that keep the human squarely at the center of the customer experience.

Tom Goodmanson is president and chief executive officer of Calabrio in Minneapolis

The Drum's April print magazine, The Amazon Issue, explores how the brand continues to impact the present and future of marketing. Join The Drum+ to see unique industry insight including Amazon's profound effect on retail and e-commerce, its burgeoning advertising business and more in our award-winning publication.

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