With Amazon’s recent acquisition of Whole Foods, they have set into motion an expedited battle of our times, pitting an e-commerce titan against the last relatively untouched brick-and-mortar retailers out there: grocery stores. Additionally, they are positioning themselves on a faster collision course with the likes of Walmart and Target. Aside from the ramifications this will have on Wall Street, there are more interesting effects this industry-disrupting move may cause. Over the next several years, we will all bear witness to a potentially groundbreaking shift in how consumer goods are browsed and bought.
Amazon has already proven the staying power of online shopping, starting as a modest online bookstore and eventually maturing to where it stands today; essentially the Internet’s Mall. By absorbing a well-established grocery brand with nearly 500 nationwide locations in prime high-traffic areas, Amazon now finds itself thrust even further ahead and into yet another industry.
With Amazon’s commanding presence in so many other retail areas, their overall success is not determined solely by their grocery line’s performance, which will give them the flexibility to price gouge at a much heavier rate than many other retailers can afford to compete with. Cue the next chapter of the Retail-pocalypse. This shift will likely send reverberations through buying habits and will give us plenty to observe over the next few years.
First, we’ll get to see how Amazon sets up their grocery line. Will they keep it the same as store set-ups have been for decades? Judging by the Amazon Go concept they revealed last year, the chance of that is small. Amazon/Whole Foods is going to serve as the epicenter for watching how retail of the future may function. The unique pairing of a tech giant with shopping locations at scale will open the door to a myriad of unprecedented options. Expect to see an industry shake-up on par with what Airbnb did to the hospitality industry. Amazon has already tested the syncing of online accounts to in-store purchasing which allows for a much speedier checkout time. Instead of lining up at the registers, consumers will be able to walk in, grab items and walk out. All items are tagged and billed to the Amazon account when the consumer leaves the store with it. Has Amazon now solved shoplifting for good too?
The next area to keep an eye on will be all the other industries that will populate the space in response to the change in shopping habits. The possibilities are truly endless. Could Amazon partner with franchised delivery services, which could get your groceries to you in half the time? Could a full-on Uber-like service develop, where grocery access to your Amazon account is given to a stranger for a set period of time, who shops and delivers for you? Will we start seeing more of those Amazon or independently licensed drones zipping through city sky-lines delivering your express “15-item or less” purchases? Will you be able to sync an entire online grocery list to one of those Amazon buttons that we currently only use to buy detergent? Will our favorite grocery locations have to adopt some or all of these services to keep up? And what’s to say that this model won’t transition into use for other items such as clothing, electronics, home goods, novelties, etc.? Throwing on a dapper new outfit and legally walking out the front door with it sounds pretty appealing. Not to mention the effects this could have on industries a little more indirectly tied to the shift.
If Amazon follows through with their walk-in, walk-out set up, it’s hard to imagine that a boom in a new form of shopping attire won’t take place. Expect apparel/designer brands to come out with some type of ‘wearable cart’ in the form of a large hand or shoulder bag. Wearable technology may also experience a similar period of growth. Imagine apps that pick up on when you’re close to an item on your grocery list. Or tell you if the closest location is out of stock for an item on your list. Could those Apple Watches finally prove useful? Or will something else develop?
In summation, the line between online and in-store shopping is inevitably going to be blurred and knowing what impacts that will have on buying behaviors will be extremely valuable for anyone in the business of buying and selling. This development is all still fresh, but those that start paying attention now will have the clear advantage when seemingly small actions become fundamentally ingrained habits.
Here at Civilian, we are all about inspiring social action and behavior change for causes we care about. But all of that is determined by current trends in behavior. And we’re not alone. The success of countless industries depend on their ability to forecast and navigate through shifts of any magnitude. This Amazon development is an exciting one, but also a glaring representation of the types of changes that lie in store. We’ll be watching closely, with popcorn we purchased online, to see where everything stands when the dust finally settles, if ever.