Amazon has long sought to perfect how to deliver the most convenient goods-delivery experience to its customers. It started with everything shipped to your door and has progressed to the fastest, seemingly easiest, way to pick up the goods you may want in person.
Welcome to the new “Just Walk Out” technology. The company had previously experimented with more convenient shopping alternatives with the “Go” app that was launched in 2018, allowing customers to choose what they want in select stores and walk out with it without waiting to pay the bill. That first approach to expedite the shopping experience has since morphed into “Just Walk Out” – a shopping option where customers key into the store and leave with the goods and wines they like – with two stores, to date, in Washington DC and Sherman Oaks California, pioneering the technology with a separate entrance for wine sales.
According to a Whole Foods’ press release, “The 21,500-square-foot store offers a wide variety of local products.” The company notes that with “‘Just Walk Out Shopping,’ you have three different ways to pay: 1) the in-store code in your Whole Foods Market or Amazon app linked to a valid credit or debit card, 2) Amazon One linked to your Amazon account or 3) a credit or debit card linked to your Amazon account.”
According to the press release, “Just Walk Out technology is made possible by a combination of computer vision, sensor fusion, and deep learning – similar to what you’d find in a self-driving car.” Once in the stores, “customers will be greeted by a Team Member at the store’s entry gates and can then choose if they want to shop using Just Walk Out technology or the self-checkout lanes. No matter how they decide to shop, Whole Foods Market Team members will be available throughout the store to assist customers.”
While the separate wine entrance is home to an actual human being who IDs customers, concerns have surfaced about if this technology may allow underage consumers to purchase wine or encourage hurried or low-brow purchases.
According to an Amazon spokesperson the first “Just Walk Out,” store opened in Seattle in 2018 and there are now dozens of them enabled via the Amazon Go and Amazon Fresh formats across the country. “Since then, we’ve gotten a lot of great feedback from customers who love being able to quickly and easily shop and skip the checkout line,” shares Dilip Kumar, Amazon’s vice president of physical retail and technology.
Anyone will be able to shop these stores using self-checkout, but customers who want to skip the checkout line with “Just Walk Out” shopping can scan a QR code or their palm or use a credit linked to their Amazon account, explains the Amazon press release. “For now, we’re excited to see how customers like being able to skip the checkout and use Just Walk Out Shopping when we open our doors in Sherman Oaks… and we’ll go from there.”
Currently, the Amazon spokesperson I touched base with does not have numbers as to how much wine has been purchased at the Washington DC location – which opened February 23, 2022 – or the percentage of customers who buy wine at the store.
The DC location currently has a selection of more than 500 wines from 50 local suppliers, including traditional bottled and canned wines, according to a Whole Foods’ press release.
According to the Amazon spokesperson, “We can’t speculate on what we would or wouldn’t do in the future. For now, we’re excited to see how customers like being able to skip the checkout.”
When asked if the “Just Walk Out” stores, that sell wine, might pose a risk for underage purchases, the Amazon spokesperson said, “In these stores, customers present an ID to a Whole Foods Market team member before entering the adult beverage department. There is only one way to enter and exit the adult beverage department.”
Many in the wine industry also concur that the use of this technology should not pose a risk for minors being able to buy wine. It is “unlikely,” shares Paul Maubry, the CEO of the Napa-based Pix – a wine sales platform. “We’ve been proving for almost two decades that age verification works,” he adds.
Given the tech giant’s technology skill base the wine-purchasing process may become even simpler. “Eventually, that age verification process may be replaced with photo ID/facial recognition software. But I wouldn’t hold your breath for that practice to become widespread,” shares Bourcard Nesin, a beverage analyst at New York’s Rabobank.
With greater purchasing convenience come new approaches to acquisitions. We all know that the bulk of wines are purchased just a few hours before consumption, many of them at the supermarket when customers are picking up dinner. So, more access to wine in supermarket settings can lead to greater spending, however, buying wine in a multi-tasking setting may not lead to a hefty investment in individual bottles.
Maubry doesn’t think that offering wine in a more convenient purchase setting will make the purchasing experience any more impulsive than an ordinary retail experience. Acquisitions at Amazon “Just Walk Out” will not be more impulsive than those made at “Wine.com, Drizly, Reserve Bar, Instacart, DtC sites or any other methodology.” However, it may drive spending to everyday, well-known brands. He continues that, in “general Amazon will power convenience, price and speed with mostly mainstream brands.”
However, some believe that having wine displayed in a separate section of the store – given its lack of easy accessibility – might deter certain kinds of purchases. This policy could reduce “alcohol purchases if consumers that would otherwise make a purchase decision after browsing the alcohol section are deterred by the hassle of getting preemptively ID’d,” shares Nesin.
He goes on to note, “This policy could also deter people from purchasing alcohol [at all] because it would severely limit where alcohol could be displayed in the store. No more endcaps for Cabernet next to the meat counter, or cold white wine next to the summer picnic display,” says Nesin.
Wine has long been an impulse purchase and creating a separate section for its sale is likely to reduce customers’ ability to see the product in a setting that triggers single or multiple wine purchases. Christian Miller, the proprietor of Full Glass Consulting based in Berkeley, California, agrees that another effect on wine purchases, “might depend on exactly how the alcohol section is ‘roped off.’ If it creates a bit more hassle and reflection, it could lead to less impulse buying of any alcohol [not just wine].”
Also, the use of the Amazon app to buy wine – and other goods – also has the added benefit of showing the customer an updated tally of their purchase costs. This could dissuade them from buying additional, or more expensive, wine. “One thing that might impact shopping decisions [but not unique to wine or even beverage alcohol] is if the app gives you a running total. That might make budget-conscious consumers think twice about non-critical purchases,” says Miller.
While Amazon may be leading the technological pack now, other retailers are ramping up their websites and are likely to jump into the easy-to-purchase, easy-access, wine-sales fray. Maubry says that he thinks the use of this kind of technology will definitely expand.
“Moreover, I don’t think the industry has any understanding of the major and giant shift that will occur when retailers win their own version of Granholm [the pivotal 2005 court case that allowed wineries to sell direct to out-of-state consumers] and how Amazon is poised to become one of the most powerful wine retailers in the US/world due to their ‘clicks and mortar’ power à la Whole Foods.”
He adds that, “The wine retail space is on a path for a major revolution. Not only with their own version of Granholm which will shift the entire landscape of online wine but with also delivery [Instacart, Drizly], marketplaces like Vivino and Pix, gifting focus like Reserve Bar, or even packaging innovation to adjust to all the new online demand for wine.”
However only time will tell if technological advances may make wine purchasing less elusive, appealing and expensive, while making it affordable and easy to acquire.
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