The Human Centred Approach behind Amazon Go

Amazon is an incredible company that has revolutionised the way we shop online. They are underrated innovators who have changed the world of e-commerce and are now rapidly changing the way we buy in the physical world. Their smart technology is also changing how we interact with and use technology. What started as a humble online bookstore in 1994, is now one of the worlds most valuable and profitable companies, led by Jeff Bezos the latest person to take the title of Worlds Wealthiest Man.


In December 2016, Amazon launched the Amazon Go Store;  A pilot supermarket that uses a lot of very intelligent, hidden technology to create a seamless shopping experience where there is no need for checkouts. Customers can walk in, scan the QR code on their phone, and that’s it. The store can magically track which items you pick up or put down, and charge you accordingly as you walk out. While there are lots of articles and news reports about how Amazon wants to revolutionise retail stores, and how they are using their technology to take over the world; fewer people are talking about how they are able to create product after game-changing product. I believe the answer is their ruthless approach to Human Centred Design. Their Designers understand how to practice design that really addresses human desires, and their access to engineers and cutting-edge technology mean they have the recourses to execute ideas other people can only dream of. 

Lets look at the example of the Go Store. It’s an incredibly simple idea. You walk into a shop, pick up an item and are charged when you leave. Amazon was able to tackle head on the most significant pain point of shopping, the checkout. In the past five years (particularly in the UK) self-checkouts are everywhere; from every major supermarket, to pharmacies and stationers. Self-service machines are now the norm in train stations, cinemas and even fast food chains such as McDonald’s who have refurbished nearly 700 UK stores to feature ordering screens instead if cashier staff. There are obvious financial benefits to companies that take advantage of these machines as there are no labour costs or sick days. However, it’s the positive reception from the public (their users) that has allowed them to become mainstream. Mcdonalds has reported very successful pilot tests, and self-service kiosks are easy to use, a lot more of them fit in the space taken up by one cash desk - leading to shorter lines, and they get the same job done. Some psychological studies have shown that by self-checking your groceries or buying your own cinema tickets online, you get an unconscious feeling of self-empowerment as you accomplished the task yourself in your time. Self-service machines appear to be the best solution to manned cash designs; they are a realistic and affordable option for companies. However, Amazon was able to see that although they make the experience better, they are still a chore and life would be better if there was no queuing up, scanning items and making payments. They looked at the experience of the shopper and thought of a way to eliminate this pain point in the shopper's journey.

Although their approach is incredibly simple, it wasn’t an easy solution by any measure. It involved changing literally every aspect of the store, from the entrance to the shelves and the way items are stacked. When you walk in, you scan a QR code on your phone which links to your Amazon account; now the store knows who you are, and can start tracking you. The ceiling of the store is packed full of different tracking sensors and cameras that watch your every move as you walk around. They can detect which shelf you are standing by and then further sensors on the shelf can detect if any items have been picked up or placed back. This involved lots of sensors very quickly and efficiently talking to each other to track every person and every product in the store. As the store knows who you are and which items you have picked up, it can charge your Amazon account whenever it wants. It makes sense that it charges you when you leave as it can be sure that you have picked up everything you want. The technology is very sophisticated, but for the user, it’s incredibly simple and almost invisible.

This is still a pilot, so some reporters and test shoppers have found that it occasionally misses items and doesn’t charge for them, however, Amazon released a friendly and human response that says they can keep the items as the whole concept is in early stages of development. Even this statement shows their commitment to Human Centred Design as they make the after experience as easy as it could be, there is absolutely nothing for the customer to worry about, it just works! Now that Amazon has acquired Whole Foods Market, it’s no wild prediction to say Whole Foods may be the worlds first truly smart supermarket as they have the realistic ability to integrate this technology after the initial bugs have been ironed out. 

Amazon's continuous forward-thinking approach and adoption of Human Centred Design is incredibly exciting as they have the ability to revolutionise digital and real-world process. Ultimately they are using their technological expertise to fix problems and process in a way that makes experiences seamless as pain-free. It is exciting to see how they will continue to develop this concept and make Amazon Go the norm.