Business of Fashion/ Doug Stephens/ May 10, 2018

TORONTO, Canada — In 2012, US grocery chain Kroger announced what it hailed as a significant innovation in customer experience. The company had begun employing a technology platform that would help shorten the time its customers spent waiting in line to pay. With checkout lines being one of the oldest and most persistent points of friction in retail, Kroger had been exploring potential solutions to the problem for a number of years. As one executive put it, “We asked a question: If we could open up a lane exactly when we needed it, what would happen?” What happened was that the average waiting time in Kroger line-ups went from 4 minutes to less than a minute — a significant improvement to be sure.

A mere five years later however, Amazon would announce the advent of its Amazon Go store concept. Go store shoppers need only to scan their mobile device on the way in, take what they like and go. No lineups, no cash registers, no cashiers. Amazon Go not only eliminated checkout lines, it obliterated the check out entirely.

And Amazon wasn’t alone. Chinese start-up Bingo Box had actually been operating its own un-manned store concept for some time in Shanghai.

Examples like this highlight the fundamentally different headspaces between incumbent retailers and disruptors like Amazon and others. While retailers talk at length about radical innovation, much of what they produce pales when compared to the concepts and ideas that relative outsiders bring to the market.

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