The Weird And Wonderful World Of Amazon Experiments The Future Of Retail Is Closer Than You Think

If there’s one industry that’s never immune to the impacts of new technology, it’s retail. From the Credit Card in 1950, the Barcode in 1974 or even the Tesco Clubcard in 1995 – technology has changed the way we shop over and over again.

In recent times we’ve seen the switch to selling online – in the UK, retail giants have fallen and high streets have changed forever. In the US – the retail landscape is still changing in response to the growth of online sales.

The poster child of this online retail revolution is Amazon. Launched in 1995, the internet giant is the 4th biggest publicly traded company in the world. It started by selling books but now sells everything under the sun, runs half the internet via it’s cloud computing arm, and in recent years has moved into home technology via the Alexa voice assistant and Amazon Prime Video.

So, with an estimated $13.3bn per year R&D spend, if we’re going to look for the future of retail – it makes sense to start looking at Amazon, here are 3 recent examples that caught my eye.

A Camera That Gives You Fashion Advice

Announced recently, the Echo Look is a smart camera combined with Amazon’s voice-activated Echo Dot home assistant. The idea is that fashion-conscious shoppers can not only photograph their outfits, but receive style advice via Amazon’s AI assistant, Alexa.


Whilst Amazon is a big player in online retailing for books, media and electronics, it’s struggled to break through into fashion retailing. It’s likely they’ve spotted an opportunity based on the technology they have, but perhaps the bigger story is Amazon reaching even further into your home.

How does it work?

The hardware isn’t ground-breaking, it’s a camera combined with Amazon’s existing Echo Dot, but what’s special is the machine-learning algorithms that Amazon hopes will power fashion recommendations. At the moment Amazon is cagey with the details, suggesting that fashion experts have a hand in creating the recommendations, so we don’t really know how automated it really is.

How close is it?

Well you may think that people taking photos is ridiculous, but it’s not as crazy as you might think – see Instagram’s #ootd (Outfit of the Day) which has 122m posts. Whether Amazon’s style advice is smart enough to give serious recommendations remains to be seen – it’s currently only US and listed as “by invitation only”.

A Store With No Checkout

An experimental store launched earlier this year, Amazon Go is a store where you never have to checkout, just pick up your items and “Just Walk Out”. Currently a single store in Seattle not far from Amazon HQ and available to Amazon employees only, it explores just what technology can do to change the in store experience.


Amazon leads the online retail world but its ambitions are larger than that: 90% of worldwide spend is still in bricks and mortar stores. Ironically we’ve also seen Amazon expanding into physical book stores much to the horror of the few remaining high street book-sellers, so it’s possible that Amazon hasn’t ignored the part the high street plays in the future of retail.

How does it work?

Amazon haven’t gone into to much detail, but it’s likely that they are using a combination of different sensor techniques. Accurate close range tracking is key – being able to locate whether a product is near to a sensor or not, likely via bluetooth low-energy, combined with weight sensors and cameras on shelves, and using a customer’s phone to identify which part of the store they are in. The big picture here is that data from all these multiple sources are combined with the customer’s profile in order to [hopefully!] make accurate predictions.

How close is it?

Make no mistake, Amazon’s store is fully functional, and whilst it may be years before other retailers start introducing similar tech, I’d expect that a [closely watched] store will be open to the public very soon, rolling out on a small scale in select locations. In 5 years time, this could be mainstream.

Delivery via Drone

It sounds like the future, but with Amazon Prime Air it’s actually possible. Amazon’s UK testing base has announced they’ve developed a system to allow online orders to be dispatched and delivered direct to you via a drone. Small items only, of course!


Amazon’s control (and love) of the fulfilment process is legendary, by having control over logistics they can deliver products more efficiently and faster, out-competing their rivals. The holy grail though is the “last mile” – the step between the distribution centre and your front door. Delivery drivers are expensive, routes aren’t flexible and traffic is unreliable. If drones could do this job you could have scale and speed, and products delivered to the customer in under an hour.

How does it work?

Modern drone technology is more than capable of flying itself from A to B, it’s all about having enough processing power to be able to respond to variables like obstacles, the weather, and other drones.

How close is it?

Although the tech is here, the regulations haven’t kept pace with the possibilities. Drone flying is now strictly controlled in most places due to fears about security, aircraft safety and privacy. Amazon has gone as far as drafting proposals for how low altitude airspace should be regulated and is likely already lobbying lawmakers. Until then – we’re likely to be waiting a bit longer until we see this in action.

So I hope you’ve enjoyed exploring these examples – but I want to hear what you think – does this sound like the future of shopping or just some vanity projects from a company that has too much money? How do you see technology changing your retail business? Let me know on @fiora or @_harrybevan.