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The launch of the UK’s first Amazon Fresh stores last month caught a lot of attention, with long queues building up outside and the media spotlight firmly on the ‘uniqueness’ of the shopping experience. But why all the commotion?

There are already 20 cashier-less Amazon Go stores in the US, but the Just Walk Out model that they are based on is still fairly novel in the UK and much of the rest of the world. Part of the reason for this is because, aside from Amazon, many other retail giants have had only limited success trialing similar models. This isn’t to say there hasn’t been progress.

From early beginnings

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The events of the last year have undoubtedly hurried things along, with many grocery retailers offering Scan as you Shop models both for convenience and safety by minimizing interactions between customers and colleagues. In the UK, sales through Sainsbury’s SmartShop, for instance, rose to 37% in 2020 from 15% the year before – even reaching 50% in some stores. Another retailer, Marks & Spencer, doubled the number of stores offering its Mobile Pay Go service to 100 locations in April last year, and many other supermarket chains are making their own similar services more widely available.

However, despite this progress, the Just Walk Out model is still only on the fringes of the retail industry. Global retailers will need to step up their efforts in this area if they hope to compete with the continued expansion of Amazon Fresh.

Shoppers are ready, retailers are not

Consumer readiness certainly isn’t an obstacle to the Just Walk Out model. In fact, our own research reveals that 60% of global consumers would prefer to shop via an Amazon Go-style experience. The figure jumps to 77% for 18-34 year-olds. Additionally, more than half (53%) of consumers would be willing to allow retailers to track their shopping behavior both in and outside of stores if it means they could receive more personalized offers and promotions.

However, there are technological challenges to making this a reality. A successful Just Walk Out model must be powered by systems like facial recognition technology that gives the retailer the ability to seamlessly connect a customer’s user profile and billing account with the products they select as they walk through the store. Those systems also need to be sophisticated enough to detect what items are placed back on shelves to ensure that customers’ purchases are accurately documented and they are charged accordingly.. 

To create a truly effective experience, in-store systems not only have to track items as they are placed into shopping baskets, but also analyze customers’ past purchasing behavior to offer real-time information, offers, and suggestions as they walk through stores. As such, retailers also require a unified view of each customer across the entire business. That means having a single source of truth that reveals everything from a customer’s online and offline shopping history to their browsing preferences and current location. 

How to act like Amazon

If global retailers are to replicate Amazon’s success, API-led connectivity should be the starting point. All too often, retailers rely on getting to know their customers by pulling data from multiple siloed systems and placing it into a monolithic data warehouse. However, with each system updating continuously, this information is typically out-of-date as soon as it reaches the centralized database. This impedes attempts to drive seamless, real-time, personalized shopping experiences.

APIs help to overcome this by serving as a kind of connectivity layer, binding assets like mobile applications, websites, IoT devices, ERP systems, and CRM solutions together, while maintaining flexibility. The result is a unified digital ecosystem; a foundation on which retailers can build their own just-walk-out experiences.

Building digital ecosystems

By unifying their data, applications, and devices into a seamless digital ecosystem, retailers can finally realize the vision for true omnichannel experiences. This will lay the foundations for making the Amazon experience a more widespread reality, in a fitting tribute to the 20-year-old “Bezos API Mandate” which has been the key to the retail giant’s success.

Download our whitepaper to learn how MuleSoft can help your business to build a consistent, seamless omnichannel experience to support the drive towards “Just Walk Out” shopping.