retail news in context, analysis with attitude

ZDNet reports that convenience store chain &-Eleven is “rolling out a self-checkout feature in its app that allows customers to scan barcodes of products and pay via PayPal or other online methods. However, checkout is not totally automated. Upon leaving the store, one must put their smartphone with the app running face down on a scanner to complete the transaction … What 7-Eleven has really done is not eliminate checkout lines but create two of them, one of which should have a shorter queue. Lines at the company's stores generally aren't too long as people pick up just a few items at a time as opposed to, say, a warehouse club. But it's clear that the prospect of competing with Amazon Go has the convenience chain focusing on the signature experience of that store. 7-Eleven's process may be primitive compared to Amazon's, but it does result in a faster checkout by waiting on even a short line.”
KC's View:
The overarching point of the ZDNet story seems to me to be that companies like 7-Eleven are being forced to innovate along these lines because of what Amazon has done in its checkout-free Amazon Go stores … as it does in so many ways, Amazon is setting the terms of the competition, even though it can’t be said that, with just a few more than a dozen stores, Amazon Go has reinvented the retail experience on a mass scale.

What Amazon Go does do is show Amazon’s willingness to invest, innovate and implement in ways that few other companies can or will. And so, when 7-Eleven tries something like this, it isn’t really innovating. It is responding. Nothing wrong with that, but it isn’t based on some fresh insight about its business model and/or customers. (Also, 7-Eleven has some limitations, since it has to sell this system into its franchisees in order to get any sort of traction. Good luck with that.)

One other thing. It seems to me that ZDNet and/or 7-Eleven may be making a common mistake, conflating self-checkout with checkout-free. To my mind, they are entirely different experiences, and the latter is far harder to pull off and far more effective when it works.