Amazon has disrupted plenty of industries over the past several years, but now it may be taking the fight to your local supermarket.
The tech giant is planning to expand its Amazon Go cashierless stores to more cities and with bigger footprints next year, Bloomberg reported on Wednesday, citing sources who claim to have knowledge of its plans. Amazon will initially open stores between 2,000 and 10,000 square feet, or about the size of a convenience store or small market. But before long, the company plans to open 30,000-square-foot supermarkets with the same cashierless technology.
The first Amazon Go store opened in Seattle in 2016, and the company has been slowly expanding to other cities. The stores are stocked with products customers want, but don’t have any cashiers. Instead, customers walk into the store and scan their phones to alert the system that they’re there. They then choose the products they want and walk out. Amazon’s cameras, sensors, and other technologies identify what shoppers have selected and automatically charge their accounts.
Still, the existing stores are small, allowing Amazon to more easily track customers and ensure no one is walking out with free goods. According to the Bloomberg report, Amazon has now improved the technology to a degree that it believes Amazon Go could be applied to stores measuring 30,000 square feet, or about the same size as your local supermarket.
That’s undoubtedly bad news for a grocery store industry that’s dealing with pressure from all sides. A McKinsey study published last year found that while the global grocery industry is $5.7 billion and growing, grocery stores have been hit hard by higher costs and more competition for consumer dollars. Online shopping has also prompted many consumers to turn away from grocery stores, applying even more pressure on the companies.
But Amazon might be uniquely positioned to capitalize on that. The company has a massive online store, with enough reach (and cash) to attract shoppers and not worry about short-term losses.
Amazon Go stores have also been engineered to keep costs down. The technology they use is expensive, of course, but by not needing to keep its stores staffed with cashiers all day, Amazon can dramatically reduce costs. That puts even more pressure on competitors.
That said, Bloomberg also reported that Amazon could become a quasi-lifeline for the supermarkets and other retailers it plans to compete against. According to the report, the company is mulling the possibility of licensing its cashierless technology to other companies. In those cases, Amazon licensees can operate an Amazon Go store under their own brand and reduce their personnel costs.
For its part, Amazon has remained tightlipped on its plans. But Bloomberg’s sources say the company is serious about making a run at the supermarket industry. And if all goes well after testing larger stores in the first quarter, we can expect to see the first Amazon Go supermarkets pop up sometime in 2020.