People have been going ga-ga over the launch of AmazonGo, the retail giant’s new physical store where checkout lines and cash registers will become a thing of the past. Shoppers will simply walk into the store, take items off the shelf, walk out, and an associated app bills it to their Amazon account. Take a look at the promotional video below:
The store actually exists and is open to the public …sort of… At the moment you have to “know someone” in order to get an invitation to shop at the BETA location. Success has varied during the testing phase, some improvement need to be made to make certain the app knows when you put something back on the shelf so that you don’t get charged, but overall nothing I’ve read makes any current problems they may be experiencing insurmountable. I fully believe this store is going to happen. Soon.
Which is exciting, because I was promised a store just like this over 15 years.
Amazon launched in 1995, focusing exclusively on selling books online, but a few months after founder Jeff Bezos added movies, music, and software to his burgeoning empire (along with adding the curved arrow to this logo which pointed out that the new Amazon would carry everything from A to Z), IBM hired agency Ogilvy & Mather to create a commercial which showcased their expertise in an emerging technology called RFID (Radio Frequency IDentification). RFID technology uses radio waves to capture and read information stored on chips which can be attached to physical items. Like products in a store.
Using RFID technology in stores to keep track of store inventory isn’t a new idea, but it’s made new advances which are pretty interesting. And as futuristic as it sounds, neither is the idea of walking into a store, selecting what you want, and making a quick exit while some magic system automatically charges you for your purchases instead of having to stand in the checkout line for hours (okay, not really hours — but doesn’t it feel like it sometimes??)
In 2001 a 60-second television spot titled “Supermarket” aired on television. I only recall seeing this advertisement once or twice, but it made a huge impact on me. The TV commercial does a great job of telling the story of a shady looking character (played perfectly by actor Richard Speight, Jr.) in a trenchcoat entering a grocery store. He casts a wary eye across the aisles and proceeds to walk through the store, apparently shoplifting items as he goes. He shoves all manner of merchandise — even a couple of steaks — into his voluminous jacket, all under the watchful gaze of store employees, other customers, and a grim looking security guard. He strides at a quick pace toward the exact while a video camera records him from a corner of the store. As he makes his “escape” the security guard shouts out to him — but not to arrest him. He just wants to tell him that he forgot his receipt! Apparently every item he’d been pocketing was being counted and calculated and cashed out using IBM’s RFID technology.
I love to shop, but I hate to pay.
More specifically, I hate to wait to pay.
I loved that commercial and the promise it made to me.
I remember asking friends if they’d seen it, but no one in my circle ever had (though someone must have because the spot won an advertising industry award for Television Distinction that year!) The commercial stayed in the back of my brain for more than a decade, and when the retail industry began speaking of ways to utilize RFID technology in their stores, I once again referenced that television spot — and still no one had heard of it.
fast-forward to a year or so ago and Amazon announces their AmazonGo project, and I want to share this wonderful commercial again. This time sweet, sweet, YouTube comes to my rescue. I finally use the correct combination of magical search keywords and find myself a link to this television commercial which had so impacted my imagination.
I have embedded the original commercial below for your enjoyment. Watch it and compare it to the Amazon video above (watch it before watching the IBM video below.) Though the ad from 2001 lacks the shiny happy people representing Amazon customers, there is no denying that its older, more dramatic, cousin promises the exact same convenience and speed of shopping.
And so I continue to wait for the promise to become reality (…soon!)