Week in Review

It’s been an interesting week for cashless payments with the well documented buzz surrounding Amazon Go and Starbucks, testing their cashierless and cashless stores respectively. Being the innovators of retail and coffee industry respectively, it’s definitely brought a shift in group think surrounding cashless payments. An earlier article last week shows some initial impressions on Amazon Go and the general consumer experience.

In Bangkok, the iconic Chatuchak market is proposed to go cashless from this June. Visitors of this market will soon be able to make cashless transactions using QR codes on their mobile phones. Also part of this project is automated parking spots, which should help alleviate congestion during peak shopping hours. This ambitious project will be of great news to shoppers, local businesses and mobile manufacturers alike, with the smartphone market estimated to grow to 30 million users by 2022. It will be interesting to watch this project unfold.

Bangkok_Chatuchak_Market_2

Photo credit: ThailandPhoto at commons.wikimedia.org

This week also sees a continued uptake in Singapore’s foray into a cashless economy. The industry has seen incredible growth over the past 2 years with cashless payments accounting for 4 out of every 10 transactions . In collaboration with major financial services providers (Mastercard, Visa, Alipay, American Express, DBS etc) the open loop QR payments eco-system is set to eliminate cash by 2019. The deadline is very aggressive and ambitious, and may even sound lofty, but not be impossible, thanks to the ease of implementing QR based payments. It will be interesting to monitor developments in Singapore as it could potentially be a template for developing countries looking to transition into a cashless economy.

Taking a lead from Amazon, Starbucks and Uber, Houston restaurants are looking to embrace cashless payments. Restaurant owners are trying to limit their use of cash registers in a bid to save time and money. One very positive take on cashless payments by Peli Peli kitchen’s owner, stating that cashless payments would help improve quality of life for his employees by reducing the hours spent in counting cash. Restaurant employees would be able to leave early and cash holding cost for restaurant owners would also reduce.

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Amazon Go Experience

The past month has been an incredible step forward for cashless payments. We have entered a new age of retail shopping with Amazon Go trialing their completely automated cashless store in Seattle. Let’s have a look at some initial impressions of Amazon Go.

The Cashless Experience

It’s pretty important to keep in mind that Go is still in a proof of concept stage. It’s near impossible to perfect such a concept in the first “Go”. Questionable use of pun aside, the first week of trials can largely be heralded as a success despite some minor hiccups.

The Technology

The shopping experience is as seamless as simply walking in and out of the store with your groceries. Users have to download the Amazon Go app first, from either the Google Play-store or iTunes and linking it to your existing Amazon account. A valid credit card should already be linked to this account, in order to be completely set up. After linking successfully, the app will display a unique code. It’s this code that identifies you as an individual. Simply scan this code at the entry turnstile and you can begin your shopping experience.

A multitude of cameras and sensors in the store tracks your movement and together with Artificial Intelligence, tracks gestures and products you bought. There’s no billing or check out in store. Just walk out of the store with your items and the app will calculate your basket and bill you. It’s possibly the most seamless and non-intrusive shopping experience yet!

The Experience

Prior to opening the store to the public, one of the most hotly contested issue was how would this impact customer experience. The most noticeable improvement in customer experience is the visible lack of queues. However, there were periods in the day where the lines were long. But this was short lived as the lines kept moving. What’s important to realize is that queues moved along quickly even during peak store footfall. This is a huge step forward when compared to the nightmare that is Black Friday sales! Amazon Go’s true test would be how it handles crowds during the holiday shopping season.

Another positive experience from a consumers perspective was that items in store were reasonably priced. It’s crucial for Amazon to keep their prices level with regular super markets while maintaining overheads involved in operating such a place and of course balancing that R&D budget! This is an understated nuance, since consumers can fall of the wagon after the novelty of such a store wears off. Amazon could have easily chose to mark up their products but they didn’t. This is indicative of their long term view of garnering adoption rather than banking in on immediate short term hype.

On a side note, unfortunately purchases of alcohol required human intervention. A potential solution to this is to submit proof of age in the App and getting it verified, before entering their stores.

What’s missing?

One of Amazon’s biggest pull is their rating system. I have lost count of the amount of times where positive user reviews and ratings convinced me to buy a product. The converse is true for this as well. Ratings were visibly missing in the store. But this is understandable considering the logistics involved in making something like this happen. Amazon clearly knows the value of user data, ratings and reviews which feeds into their successful recommender system. So I wouldn’t put it past Amazon to introduce product ratings in their next iteration of Go.

Final Verdict

It goes without saying that Amazon are pioneering a new era of cashless payments. This proof of concept with an amibitious plan of 2000 stores, has the potential to go far beyond and be instilled in the fabric of how we shop. With technology such as contactless payments, Android/Apple Pay, wearable payments etc, Businesses are now more open to enable seamless payments processing. Amazon Go is as seamless as it gets without entering the realms of biometric payments.