Amazon dancing with wine and tech enters physical retail

That’s the entrance and the exit. No cashiers!

Those of you who sit at the intersection of wine and technology the way I do, would probably be amused to discover that Amazon (the world’s third largest retailer) has made another foray into the world of wine after leaving the business last fall. Unlike in the past where it experimented with selling wine online in the US (only to be hampered by state regulations, not that we Indians would know anything about that!) this time it is about physical retail. Today, Amazon announced that their Amazon Go grocery stores are ready for prime time and have officially launched with the first one being in Seattle located at 2131 7th Ave, Seattle, WA, near the corner of 7th and Blanchard.

There are two special things to know about these Amazon Go grocery stores. First and most critically is that they do not have any checkout lines, cashiers or point of sale terminals. You simply pick up what you want from one of the shelves and then walk out of the shop. Your Amazon card gets automatically charged – no scanning of items, no swiping of credit cards, no cashiers asking you if you want anything else – it is all a seamless and transaction-invisible experience made possible through hundreds of cameras watching your every move and the Amazon app that you check into when you show up. It’s a different world and one that awaits us all.

The wine section of the store

Now for the wine part. At these new grocery stores, Amazon is also selling wine. We know little about this so far but there are a few giveaways from the early photographs and comments from Amazon. As Amazon has done with books, they’re trying to reinvent how the wine is sold. They’re trying to make it even more accessible, approachable and understandable than any other wine retailer is today in the US or elsewhere in the world.

Secondly, it is clear to expect that Amazon is going to use their rich trove of consumer data to influence what wine gets stocked in which of their grocery shops. We’ve already seen that with books – what goes on the shelves is what sells online in a given city. They’ll probably take the same approach with wine. Amazon will use its intelligence on consumer behavior to heavily influence what gets sold in each store. That logic will extend to wine as well which may have significant logistics challenges but may still be done nevertheless.

Thirdly and ironically, since there’s no cashier and no checkout counter to verify your drinking age, Amazon has a sales associate in the wine section of the store to check your ID. As soon as your ID is verified, you will be allowed to pick up bottles of wine and put them in your bag. Once you walk out of the store, you’ll be automatically charged for them.

The world of retail is changing dramatically with technology. Amazon is at the forefront of these changes not surprisingly. And with their recent Amazon Go launch, they’re pushing the boundaries of retail innovation. Time will tell whether they use it as an excuse to also push wine selling innovation. If you’re a wine retailer, I’d suggest you pay attention to what Amazon Go is doing. I’m sure there’s something for us all to learn.