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Taking Stock #8: Jolly Jeff and the impatience trap

by Sean Fleming

Sometimes, when my mind has time to wander, I find myself reflecting on what it must be like to be Jeff Bezos.

I always arrive at the same conclusion – it must be pretty awesome.

Of course, no life is without its trials and tribulations; we all have demons to face from time to time. Being the world’s richest man isn’t automatically going to act as a defence against many of the insecurities that plague mankind. But Jeff Bezos isn’t just the world’s richest man. He’s one of its most successful, too. Yet I think there’s more to the man than simply wealth beyond your wildest imagination and success beyond your most outlandish dreams.

I think he’s also got an incredible sense of humour. Why do I think this? I’ll try to explain.

Last week Amazon Go was unveiled in Seattle. According to Amazon it’s “a new kind of store with no checkout required. We created the world’s most advanced shopping technology so you never have to wait in line.

The world’s media swooned at the announcement. This, we were told, is the future of shopping. And why..? Well, because whenever Amazon does something (no, anything) there are always people telling us we’re witnessing the future of retail/delivery/distribution, you name it.

I’ve heard contradictory opinions from retailers on whether Amazon really is setting the pace for development. Many think that following in Amazon’s wake is the only game in town, but just as many say the ecommerce giant’s announcements are nothing but hype and PR. One thing is certain though – where Amazon goes the media agenda follows, and that has the effect of skewing customer expectations (if Amazon can deliver my cat litter in under an hour, why can’t everyone?) and of distracting other retailers from their plans. Ok, that’s actually more than one thing.

The Go store is described as a trial by Amazon and as it’s only been open for such a short time it’s impossible to say if it’s the future of anything, of course. But once again we’ve seen how the Jeff Bezos way of doing business seems to send a lot of people running around in circles.

Which is why I think Jeff must have a great sense of humour. How else could he conjure up lines of people waiting to get inside a store that advertises itself as a place you can shop without having to wait in line?

Leaving aside the #facepalm element of people actually queueing up to patiently wait in line to go into a store just so they don’t have to wait in line – and it’s been a struggle not dwelling on that – I have mixed feelings about the whole Amazon Go thing.

When my local supermarket first installed self-service checkouts I didn’t use them. I felt strongly about not rushing through every aspect of life, and even more strongly about the dehumanising nature of using technology to replace people in everyday situations. These days I use them all the time; I’m a busy guy, I don’t have time to stand behind someone who waits until after the cashier has told them how much they owe before they start slowing looking for their wallet, as if the expectation of making a payment has caught them unawares.

I have misgivings about the tech-heavy nature of the Amazon Go setup too. Having your every move tracked just seems a little creepy to me. How else could that data end up being used, I ask myself. I only have myself to ask these days, as I limit all forms of human interaction as possible – life’s too short for small talk.

But I know that, just like the self-scanning person-shunning checkouts I now always look for in every store, I will eventually be happy to accept that my weapons-grade indecision when it comes to choosing which spaghetti to buy will be recorded, indexed, analysed and stored in a datacenter somewhere.

The thing is, I can’t help but think there are still of lot of today’s problems that need fixing before we all go running off in pursuit of the future of shopping. For example, on-shelf availability, or food waste. Or the ever-present challenge of getting goods to shoppers in a timely and convenient manner, while still being able to make a profit from doing so.

#Our Vision, #Amazon

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