According to the Wall Street Journal Amazon is testing larger format stores with its Amazon Go cashierless technology as a prelude to a Whole Foods rollout. The WSJ appeared to have spoken with several insiders. “It is unclear whether Amazon intends to use the technology for Whole Foods, although that is the most likely application if executives can make it work, according to the people.” There are predictions by some experts and entrepreneurs that virtually every physical retail store will be checkout free within 5-10 years.
Walter Robb, former Whole Foods co-CEO, discussed the possibility of Amazon adding its cashierless technology to Whole Foods in an interview on CNBC:
I just think is part of a larger revolution that’s happening in retail and in food in general. The customers are having more and more options. Amazon Go, which is now up to 13 stores already has this deployed in a smaller store format. The application of this to a larger selection of products, most Whole Foods stores have about 35,000 units, is very exciting and very interesting.
I think we’re just seeing this massive wave of disruption and innovation in retail in general. What this does is, if you call the grocery business about $2 trillion in the US plus or minus, what you’re seeing is all these new ways in which the customer can get their food. This is part of that choice. I think one of the things that people miss about the Amazon Whole Foods merger is the fact that physical retail really matters. What this does is say, okay we’re going to try to make the physical experience a little more streamlined for people so it contrasts with the online experience. I think you just see this bevy of choices the customers never had and we couldn’t even imagine five years ago.
It’s still early but I think Amazon and Whole Foods certainly have different cultures and different styles, but I think that Amazon has very smart and capable people and I think the cultures are beginning to find their way, both their work processes. If you think about what we at Whole Foods gained from Amazon, we got tremendous first best-in-class technology and data capabilities, the digitization of Whole Foods, was significantly accelerated.
I think for Amazon they got a great brand in fresh foods which they’d struggle up to that point. They got the knowledge of the customer in the physical stores versus just the digital world and they got proximity to about 85% of the US population. It was a real win-win-win combination. People forget that food is probably the largest sector in the economy. This is a very significant deal that happened and I think a proxy for the fact of how business and commerce in general are evolving so quickly.