Amazon Fresh – challenging the importance of human interaction in brand experiences

Lee Frangiamore

Associate Creative Director

The experience of visiting my ‘local store’ to pick up my weekly groceries has just had a significant revamp – and not just your usual lick of paint and new signage. I live pretty close to the first UK based Amazon Fresh store which has opened here in London, so decided to take a visit and see how I felt about this new shopping experience. It prompted some deeper reflection around our work and beliefs as an agency.

I pondered whether a grocery shopping trip counts as a brand experience. Given Amazon’s brand is almost entirely existing in the digital world, this new venture taking their offering into a physical retail store does feel like the closest thing I’m going to get to a live brand experience with what is one of the most financially successful brands in the world right now. I’m sure we all can agree that we are likely to come away from a trip to supermarket giants Waitrose and Iceland with quite different impressions of the two brand offerings. So would my high-tech visit to Amazon Fresh visit reinforce Amazon’s image of customer-centricity, simplicity and innovation or leave me feeling aggressively “track and traced”, as well as my shopping habits scrutinised?

Afterall, at MCCGLC we believe passionately about the importance of human interaction within our work of creating brand experiences. Tech has always been an incredible part of what we deliver at shows and events, but fundamentally we see it more as a facilitator that can help leverage deeper and increased connections between our customers, their teams and their clients, not something that should exist on its own. So it was interesting to take a first spin in a physical Amazon retail store and see how something as simple and everyday as a grocery trip could work when relying purely on some very clever tech. It was exciting. Scanning my QR on entry, I felt like I was stepping into the future, and it felt fun and well, fresh (excuse the pun). The store’s tech works seamlessly, with cameras watching your every move as well as every product on the shelves. It was clean and organised. Filling my bag with items and just walking out of the store did fill me with a little anxiety too. I felt like a shoplifter. But it also felt scarily easy to buy things, and very easy for the money associated with the purchases to be entirely forgotten. Spendaholics beware, in five years time Amazoners-Anonymous could be the new AA service.

“Afterall, at MCCGLC we believe passionately about the importance of human interaction within our work of creating brand experiences.”

But would I go again? And did the lack of human interaction damage my shopping experience in any way? The hassle free, queue-free experience was so convenient that I would definitely visit again. I’d be surprised if we don’t see this tech coming into more low-value shopping experiences very soon. And of course the store was not human-free. As well as other shoppers around (in fact, queuing to give it a try), Amazon also has around five staff onsite at any time to deal with customer queries, restock shelves and prep some of the fresh food items. It felt not much different to your average supermarket experience, just a little more efficient. The staff were friendly and helpful, so the brand experience overall was top notch.

“Did the lack of human interaction damage my shopping experience in any way?”

But when living in London our communities around us are not often close-knit. If I was in a smaller town or village I imagine that the importance of the social interaction I receive from familiar and friendly faces at the local shops, would be much higher to me. The experience at these Amazon Fresh stores (and really at any big supermarket) is a world away from the value-adds that you get from chatting to your local butcher or fishmonger, finding out where your food has come from and creating familiar, local relationships. We can’t ignore the importance and value that comes from those emotional responses that are commonly triggered by human interactions – especially so right now when so many of us are feeling cut off from those channels in our personal lives.

“We can’t ignore the importance and value that comes from those emotional responses that are commonly triggered by human interactions”

And isn’t it those little local experiences that add some spice to our lives, amongst the mundane and the everyday? Afterall an experience is really about that ability to create something special, something memorable. We might not need all our daily tasks to blow our minds, but if we make them about function only then do our lives become a little more flat and uninteresting? A chance of having a human interaction within an experience opens up possibilities – for that experience to become something more than the expected. Humans are endlessly creative in a way technology is simply not.

Humans are endlessly creative in a way technology is simply not.”

My last takeaway was that this sort of shopping experience can really only work for something as simple as the low-value, everyday, grocery purchases. For bigger purchases, the human interaction also has a role to play as a valuable reassurance to me. To discuss a product’s pros and cons and have a brand rep or sales person help eliminate doubts and convey a passion for a product, can be hugely effective at persuading us in one direction or another. A human can help us filter a wealth of information, quickly understanding our individual needs and point us to those things that would be most valuable to us.

Tech can of course be a part of that journey, and as Ai develops it will no doubt get better at reading our needs, but the experience of connecting with another human and finding understanding and support is one that technology is certainly not (yet) able to deliver.

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