Published on: January 23, 2018by Michael Sansolo
It’s strange how eras intersect, with important moments sliding by quietly, even unnoticed - even a moment of a monumental shift in American history.
There’s a passage I love in the book “1861” by Adam Goodheart, that takes place far out on the western frontier. A lightning fast rider for the Pony Express comes upon a strange sight: two men with a mule cart hauling trees with neither leaves nor branches that they were planting in the ground every few hundred feet.
The rider, a master of his craft and time, probably gave no thought to those men and couldn’t realize that they were actually placing poles that were essential to building the infrastructure of the transcontinental telegraph line. Nor could he know that their plodding work would soon consign the Pony Express to legend. In fact, the Pony Express ceased service two days after the telegraph line reached Salt Lake City. As Goodheart’s book explains, in that brief moment of passing, the two eras briefly intersected likely without anyone really understanding the importance of what they were seeing.
The book goes on to explain the enormous importance of that moment. How the telegraph connection suddenly allowed near instant communication from New York to San Francisco uniting the Union just as the Civil War was tearing it apart, and provided the Union forces an immense advantage in communication and economic growth.
This powerful image from Goodheart’s book came back to me on Sunday as Kevin described his visit to the now open-for-business Amazon Go store. After all, it’s just one store in Seattle and how important could that be?
I’d argue it’s enormously important. Suddenly a dreamed-about technology is a reality. Suddenly the number one complaint consumers have about the shopping experience is no more. The days of the dreaded checkout line might actually be over.
We cannot overstate the importance of this. The dream of eliminating checkouts was the driving force behind RFID technology in the 1990s and enthralled the top minds in the industry. And now it is possible and all without those costly chips.
Amazon Go represents so much more than one store. Now that it works - and Kevin bears witness to that - it completely alters the meaning of convenience. It challenges all retailers to consider how to find new ways of delighting and interacting with customers now that shoppers can realistically expect an entirely new level of store experience.
Clearly we are living history and have no way of knowing the ramifications of the change all around us. But Amazon Go is now open to the general public, which means a new era has just begun.
Obviously no one needs one more thing to worry about these days and you can properly argue that you operate nowhere near Seattle and won’t confront this challenge any time soon. But don’t doubt it, the game was just changed and you need to recognize that and think about how to make the experience of shopping in your store better than ever - from the front door to the front end.
Change is happening at full gallop.
Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at email@example.com . His book, “THE BIG PICTURE: Essential Business Lessons From The Movies,” co-authored with Kevin Coupe, is available on Amazon by clicking here. And, his book "Business Rules!" is available from Amazon by clicking here.
- KC's View:
I was reminded by Michael’s column of a commercial that IBM produced more than a dozen years ago, talking about a no-checkout store would be made possible by RFID. The commercial can be seen at left, and seems almost quaint in comparison to what Amazon has achieved.
That’s something to keep in mind, by the way. More than a dozen years ago, people and companies were talking about stores without checkouts.
Amazon did it.