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How Amazon is translating frictionless online experiences to its retail stores

Updated: Jun 14, 2022

The ‘principle of least effort’ is a fundamental human truth. It means when something can be done in several different ways, the one that uses the least energy or effort is always better. Why? Because it is a more efficient way of getting the same result.

The quicker and easier things become, the less we tolerate them when they slow or fail. Think about how you accepted desperately slow page load times 15 years ago on dial-up internet. Today, website conversion rates drop by an average of 4.42% with each additional second of load time.

Interestingly, in our human desire for efficiency, we will often compromise on values that would normally be important to us. This also applies to shopping – basically a form of information seeking where we want the quickest, most relevant answer to our material problems or desires.

Amazon has built its empire by focusing on delivering a truly frictionless shopping experience. They have been the reliable, easy option for over a decade now. Even if you disagree with their values and actions, you still end up using them. It’s just too easy. And their dominance speaks louder than any words. Over 30% of all online sales in the UK in 2020 took place on Amazon. As we integrate digital technology into our lives to take away friction we never knew we were experiencing, Amazon is capitalising.

The launch of the Amazon Fresh store, the UK equivalent of Amazon Go in the US, is a logical next step for the company. With most grocery sales still taking place in-store, Amazon can see the potential to grow share offline by reducing fiction through technology for the consumer using its ‘Just Walk Out’ principle.

Monitored by cameras, depth sensors and AI software, consumers can select from a variety of products and be accurately billed as they leave the store – you simply walk in, pick up what you want and walk out. All you need is an Amazon account and their app. There are no trolleys or baskets, items go straight into your bag. At the back of the store, there’s the Amazon Hub, where you can pick up and return items that you have bought online. It is all unbelievably easy.

Your online identity is now your access to shop. The potential of all the first-party data Amazon is collecting across both its online and now offline retail estates is phenomenal. This will be aggregated using AI technologies (that they own) and used to inform further advances in consumer experience.

It’s also an opportunity for them to really connect the digital and physical worlds. Alexa, Amazon’s voice technology, plays a role in the store – a shopper can say, for example, “Alexa, where can I find the baked beans?” and Alexa will tell them where to go. Amazon Fresh customers can now start their shopping lists at home via voice and access the items on their lists by way of their Amazon apps while shopping in the store. No other retailer currently has the capability of placing a device in your home to collect your list, and then linking it to your shopping experience in a store. The digital and physical worlds have truly connected.

Of course, where Amazon goes, others will follow. The same technology is being bought or developed by other grocers and it will not be long before tills could become redundant. As consumers, we are designed to find the easiest and most effective routes to buy, and this involves a range of online and offline touchpoints. This latest experiment from Amazon will be watched with significant interest from both brands and retailers alike, seeking what they can learn from the kings of frictionless shopping.

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