If you haven’t seen Amazon’s prototype zero-wait grocery store, watch their video (below) first and then come read this.
At first this might seem like ground-breaking new work, but the reality is that Amazon Go is just the latest iteration in a series of technologies that are helping to eliminate waiting everywhere we go. And beyond simply removing time wasted by standing in line, the Amazon Go concept store allows for a new level of consistency in the retail shopping experience.
The Tech that Makes Amazon Go… Go
How does the system work? Well that’s Amazon’s secret sauce, but we can make some educated guesses about the tech they’re using. At a high level, sensors are integrated into the space and tied together with powerful software. The consensus seems to be that they’re combining input from many different systems: Wi-Fi/Bluetooth RTLS (real-time location systems) for tracking shoppers, optical imaging analytics for detecting items and activity, plus accelerometers and other MEMS devices to assist with inventory tracking, not to mention the usual suite of retail technology systems found in traditional stores. And of course, you’ve got Amazon’s Go app running on every shopper’s phone so their digital experience is seamlessly bridged to the physical environment.
Amazon’s approach recognizes that buildings are not merely containers within which business happens; they are key infrastructure that directly supports the business goals. To that end, a building imbued with sensors, aware of its occupants, is an extension of an overall customer experience.
It makes perfect sense that Amazon is pushing the state of the art forward when it comes to bridging the digital and physical worlds, but this kind of experience has been slowly creeping into all industry verticals.
At museums and other cultural spaces we’ve seen the rise of queue-less ticketing systems where patrons can purchase digital tickets well ahead of time and skip the lines of tourists to get directly to the exhibits. More and more institutions are integrating app-based experiences that help extend the visitor interaction beyond the building and deliver more content with less friction and less waste.
Airports have slowly reinvented themselves to eliminate waiting wherever possible. From digital boarding passes to self-serve luggage tagging, the airlines have made it exceptionally easy to board a plane with nearly zero interaction with an airline employee.
Of course, on the security side there’s still tons of room for improvement. TSA information about passenger throughput is often out of sync with actual demand. An Amazon Go-like integration with building sensors would allow for near real-time adjustments to passenger screening capacity. By bridging the airlines’ digital systems with the physical components of the facility, data serves to constantly refine and improve the passenger experience.
Healthcare has been a bit slower to adopt the kind of integrated experience demonstrated by the Amazon Go stores, but it’s easy to envision parallel advancements in the vertical. In the same way that Amazon now has a grocery store without lines, imagine a doctor’s office without a waiting room. Instead of checking in at the front desk, patients would be guided directly to their exam room by technology systems within the building and their personal mobile device. A full integration would allow for far more portability with the patient’s electronic medical record and much easier scheduling for follow-up visits. And for staff, they would receive real-time notifications when patients have arrived or even when they’re going to be late.
The key to all of these advances is that rather than treating technology as just another building system that needs to be checked off a list, forward-thinkers see it as a strategic tool to deliver a high-quality and consistent customer experience that makes the idea of waiting in line seem antiquated. From infrastructure to endpoints, every part of the technology systems within a facility should be evaluated in the context of how it supports the overall goals of the organization. Eliminating the wasted time associated with waiting in line is a universal goal that benefits everyone.