I feel like if theres a word of the year as it relates to my work its friction. A nice and simple way to describe a lot of what I think im trying to do everyday is to help reduce friction. The friction could be in finding ways to signup and access information you need to do your job or in the case of Amazon's new hand scanner the friction needed to pay for something.
Retail technology has come a long way over the last 15 years from the barcode scanner to credit cards to things like apple pay but I find myself realising how much more there is to do here. And Amazon sees it too.
In some ways its amazing that Amazon seems to be the only company working on these problems. Places like square and toast are to some extent but without the ambition that Amazon seems to have.
One change that helped me see what was possible was because NYC made it illegal for stores to use plastic bags. The pandemic has complicated and slowed that transition for sure but I've gotten into the habit of brining my own bag with me when I go shopping. I use this bag as my shopping basket and the way I carry my items back home. But that means when i get to the checkout counter not only do I have to wait in line six feet behind the next person. I have to empty my bag so the item can be scanned one by one, then put all the same items right back in the same bag. Get out my credit card, swipe the card, put it back, collect my receipt and go. On one hand its a reasonably efficient way to handle this stuff but on the other its a real mess.
This is where Amazon's just walk out technology seems inevitable. They have proven it works well enough to run a real store and the technology will only get cheaper and better so its clearly inevitable right? Theres very little downside for the customer so it seems likely to succeed.
This hand scan bit however seems less like a homerun to me. I get that even technology like apple pay has some friction involved but the privacy issues with amazon storing your palm scan in the cloud dont seem worth the tradeoff to me. "Just walk out" saves you from waiting in line, emptying your items, reloading your items and has no privacy issues. While the hand scanner saves you from having to take our your phone and tap?
The real question is am are customers concerned enough about their privacy to care or will they take any opportunity to save even just a tiny bit of friction?