Time To Check Out?
In April just gone, it was the 100th Anniversary of the death of Frank Winfield Woolworth, the American entrepreneur who founded F.W. Woolworth or ‘Woollies’ as it was fondly known in the UK. He was one of the first retailers who bought goods directly from manufacturers and suppliers, and then fixed the selling prices on them rather than haggling. He then came up with the revolutionary idea of turning the counters round allowing customers to self-serve themselves and look, touch and feel the merchandise without the need of a sales assistant, and so you could just select and pay the cashier. Those two ideas changed the course of retailing and shopping, making Frank a multi-millionaire whilst giving him enough spare money to build what was then the tallest building in New York (and the world) at a cost of $13.5 million, which Frank paid for in cash!
I wonder what Frank would now make of the latest ‘GO!’ store opened in San Francisco by Amazon, which has no sales staff, no tills and of course, no cashiers? The store sells prepared food stuffs, snacks, and drinks with a particular focus on Amazon’s new own brand of sandwiches, salads and what is known in the USA as ‘meal kits’ (partially-prepared food ingredients and recipes to prepare homecooked meals), but the big difference is the removal of the checkout completely. So how does that work? Well instead of standing in a queue to pay after selecting your food and drink or snack, you just simply leave the store because on entering the store you will have scanned in on your Amazon ‘GO!’ account and the cameras and sensors in the store then track your movements registering what you have taken, so that when you walk out your Amazon standalone ‘Go!’ App account is updated and charged for your shopping, for which you receive a digital receipt via the App for the goods you bought. This new concept is sure to have a dynamic effect on the types of jobs that will employ people in the future, and how the power and quality of the brand will figure in choice and where packaging becomes the silent salesperson.
It is clear that at least in the San Francisco area, Amazon are targeting delis, cafes, lunch takeaway stores and drugstores with their new retail model. Amazon have also made the conscious decision of installing their own central kitchens to produce the freshly made foods so that they can also control and maintain high quality standards and include variety. So for the first time we see a major online player like Amazon showing where the future of offline retail is bound to go in food outlets and much more, where the only staff in the store are the merchandisers, until the robots take over. Would Frank be turning in his grave, I rather doubt it.
We are already experiencing the change that self-checkouts have had in our supermarkets and how this will continue changing the shopping experiences for consumers as each quantum leap in technology evolves, whilst also changing the business models for business owners and affecting the type of jobs that will be on offer and the training that will be offered. Some job types may disappear entirely.
How employers hire people and who they hire has also been affected by the leaps and bounds in technology. For many companies we are already seeing signs that the part of the country where you live no longer affects your ability to do a job or manage people. A manager living in Leeds can now manage a team of people in London and vice versa, and because of email, social media and video-conferencing utilising Skype, Google Chat, etc., more people are ‘tele-commuting’ rather than the need for them to spend several hours in a car going from A to B.
What comes with these innovations and the changes they make to our work patterns and lifestyles is the danger that there is too much technology, and with the ability for people to be ‘available’ all of the time it becomes so easy to always be ‘on call’ and not clocking out by turning off emails and notifications, or turning off your mobile phone, which can be crucial when trying to avoid techno-burnout. Amazon have now entered the market with a convenience store that has no staff or checkout because people do not have the time to queue and pay, but it is important to remember that every day we all need to checkout from work to find ourselves some #MeTime.