There’s no greater hell than waiting in a long line at Whole Foods on a Saturday afternoon. Luckily, there could be some sweet relief coming soon.
Alexa to the rescue? Maybe. Amazon announced on Friday its plans to acquire the grocery store chain in a deal valued at $13.7 billion.
So why in the world is America’s biggest online retailer suddenly trying to get into the grocery industry?
Well, Amazon has been pushing to expand its footprint in the grocery business for quite some time. Even as many U.S. consumers are buying other goods like clothing and electronics online, groceries have been one of the last bastions of brick-and-mortar shopping.
Amazon essentially plans to shake up this notion with sophisticated technology like artificial intelligence, computer vision, customer profiling, and drone delivery systems. Imagine: Whole Foods without the obnoxiously long lines! What a world!
No checkouts = no line
Amazon has already outlined some of its high-tech ambitions to kill long lines at grocery stores when it previewed its concept store Amazon Go back in December.
The concept showed customers walking into a grocery store, grabbing items, and walking straight out. No lines. No checkout. No register. Get in, and get out. (The exact opposite of my current Whole Foods experience.)
The concept, as described by Amazon, is reliant on computer vision, deep learning, and sensor technology that lets the store track each individual and the goods they carry out of the story. The tech currently needs some work, though, because early tests of the concept store were rife with problems.
Nonetheless, Amazon Go gives us at least some idea of the seamless transactions the company wants to introduce in its brick-and-mortar stores. In the end, Amazon just wants to make it easier for people to buy things from Amazon stores. It’s a lot like one-click purchasing from its online store, but reformatted to work in the real world.
Just a wave of the (Dash) Wand
To that end, the company will likely use its periphery gadgets to sell more in its grocery stores. For example, the Dash Wand that was just announced on Thursday lets you fill up your shopping cart by using voice commands or scanning barcodes on packages you have laying around the house.
This handheld device could ultimately be used to purchase goods from your local Whole Foods. The goods you purchase could then be delivered to your home or picked up at the store.
The Amazon Echo also has a similar grocery list feature. It is able to keep a running list of items you need to purchase, and syncs them across all your other Amazon devices. You can then order a product (say, toilet paper) by just saying it to your smart speaker.
Or the push of a button
The same idea of quick purchasing was emphasized in the Amazon Dash, the dedicated buttons that let you order more household goods just by pushing a button. The point of all these devices being that they will sync your shopping lists, and ultimately help you make those purchases through Amazon. Best of all, you get to skip the banal task of going to the grocery and walking aisle after aisle through stuff you don’t actually need.
Ultimately, Amazon’s goal is simply making it easier for people to buy stuff from the company. It’s about keeping people locked in a purchasing loop. To that end, Amazon wants to give people options.
Back in 2013, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos introduced delivery drones in a widely publicized 60 Minutes interview. It’s easy to imagine these type of delivery drones being implemented in the more than 400 Whole Foods stores around America.
Deploying drones from a local stores like Whole Foods will make it easier to reach doorsteps quickly and solves the greatest weakness of the drones, which is currently travel distance. In its first successful demonstration, Amazon delivery drone was only able to fly two miles. This will be less of an issue with Whole Foods stores everywhere.
All of this technology will be used in sum to personalize your shopping experience. For example, if you love pizza, the store might offer you some coupons on the way in or even send a push notification to your phone. At the end of the day, Amazon is still a data company, and this acquisition will likely be used to mine more information about your purchasing habits.
In the distant future, it’s easy to imagine Whole Foods stores becoming showrooms, similar to the way books are treated in Amazon Books (the new brick-and-mortar bookstores). The obnoxious lines at Whole Foods will likely be killed, and it will be much easier to purchase goodsall while Amazon builds a detailed profile of the things you like to purchase.
It’s a little creepy, but we’ll gladly sacrifice some of our privacy to end the grueling task of standing in an hour-long line at Whole Foods.