Mind the gap: the Amazon & Walmart experience

When Amazon announced its bid to acquire Whole Foods, the internet went into overdrive, writes Sandhya Shyam, Head of Marketing at retail Saas company, Duel.

Sifting through the coverage – which ranges from conspiracy theories right through to how grocery bills may drop – what is clear is that the retail experience online and offline will change dramatically. In fact, in one £13.7 billion-bid moment, Amazon has now defined it as one and the same,

Not content with setting the bar for frictionless ecommerce shopping, Amazon has made in-store the cool kid on the block again, raising the competition stakes for the likes of Walmart  who are on a journey in the opposite direction to grow their ecommerce proposition after dominating the efficient physical shopping experience.

Whilst the vast majority of retailers have been in a race to bridge the gap between bricks and mortar and online retail, essentially, both giants are saying: “There’s no gap. It’s a single experience.”

In fact, Amazon Go is a precursor to this experience. With no checkout lines or physical payment systems, Go has emulated the mindless ‘select and one-click’ purchase experience Amazon are renowned for, albeit in-store. It’s fair to posit that with their access to the Whole Foods inventory, your morning breakfast chat with Alexa could see you swing by a Go to pick up your favourite quinoa salad for lunch.

If you’re wondering how likely Walmart is to join the bidding war for Whole Foods, their recent spending spree to acquire ecommerce businesses signals investment – not simply in products or brands, but in tech innovation. Each of their acquisitions is known for creating delightful or frictionless personalised discovery, payment or delivery experiences.

All of these have the potential to be rolled out in Walmart’s bricks-and-mortar stores. The American retail giant is already experimenting with discounts online attached to click-and collect opportunities to drive footfall in-store.

In short, both are venturing into premium products via acquisitions to expand their lower-value mass product base.

Is competing an option?

Where does this future of seamless shopping experience – on the go, at home, at work, and in-store – leave the 80% of global retailers who don’t have the bandwidth to compete head-to-head with these giants?

It is a real challenge to compete with the giant product selection and distribution networks that these two offer – and many retailers are now toying with direct-to-consumer sales from higher up their supply chains.

As far as customer experience is concerned, where the giants are at a disadvantage is their potential to lack personality, or an emotive connection, to deliver new product discovery opportunities – particularly if they head towards a ubiquitous buying experience where choice becomes simple and personalised.

But picture the Amazon online shop front – it’s very plain, and perfectly functional, designed to provide ample customer-led information, data-driven recommendations, and effortless payment systems to easily steer the customer journey to the ‘buy’ button across its thousands of products.

It’s hard to imagine it veering too far away from this basic approach in-store. And for many products and consumer expectations, that works well – and retailers would be wise to emulate it.

Innovate richer experiences

The winning retailers will be the ones who are agile enough to innovate and build on the perfectly functional shopping experience that Amazon delivers at scale – innovation that brings them closer to the customer to cultivate trust, driving personalisation, delivering inspiring discovery moments, and providing richer, more informative and immersive authentic experiences.

Duel’s AI-powered software engages customers post-purchase to create and activate content that boosts retail revenue.

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