Why furniture stores should care about Amazon’s cashierless supermarket

A recent media report that Amazon is testing a supermarket equipped with Go (cashierless) technology in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood may not seem like big news for the furniture business.

Maybe it would seem bigger if you knew Amazon was using this test as part of a plan to roll out more cashierless grocery stores under a separate (non-Whole Foods) brand and was also planning to license the technology to other retailers.

It is.

Maybe it would seem bigger still if you started thinking about the term “Amazon Effect” and began to reflect on the way the Internet giant has fundamentally altered consumers’ expectations around convenience and delivery speed.

Now, I am absolutely certain at this point that some of you are reading this and marshalling your arguments for why this may be relevant in other businesses but not the furniture business. After all, the RSA is a critical differentiator in the furniture space, the invaluable and trusted relational connection between consumers and their furniture store.

That’s been true for generations and will be true for generations to come. After all who’d buy a sofa or a mattress without having someone to walk them through the sale? It’s a big ticket purchase, something you have to touch and feel, often something that needs to be customized or requires guidance to make sure it fits perfectly in the home. There’s no way that could happen effectively in a self-service environment.

And I would agree if I hadn’t seen 20% of the mattress business move online in the past five years. If I hadn’t watched Amazon grow its furniture business to as much as $4 billion by some estimates. If I hadn’t watched Wayfair grab furniture share in great big (albeit unprofitable) chunks over the same five years.

The combination of scarce labor, endless price competition and the relentless need for ever-greater efficiencies all but guarantee that so-called cashierless stores will become increasingly commonplace in the coming years. The only real question is how soon and how quickly furniture shoppers will expect the same convenience.

The next question, then, is what are you going to do about it? Or more constructively, how can you make this work for you and your business? Giving furniture shoppers an easier check-out experience could be a game-changing enhancement to delivering an overall superior in-store experience.

Imagine providing all the advantages of product trial, knowledgeable sales staff, decorating advice and design support, and at the end the happy consumer simply gets up, walks out and looks forward to the delivery of their new furniture.

Now certainly there are some steps that need to occur between where we are today and that scenario. Customizing a piece or even a full suite of furniture is a lot different than picking up a box of cereal, some peanut butter or a gallon of milk and having it automatically scanned as you walk out the door.

However, viewing it as an opportunity rather than a challenge, planning for that potential rather than trying to react as a last resort, certainly makes achieving a positive outcome more likely.

The future belongs to those who plan for it.