A-commerce is not new. In fact, you’ve undoubtedly experienced it a few times with self-checkouts in retail outlets or when suggestions are made based on what you view while shopping online.
A-commerce, or Automated Commerce, refers to the automation–and often–customization of a consumer’s retail experience through the use of devices, big data, algorithms, deep learning, and artificial intelligence (AI).
I recently had an excellent A-commerce experience with Ikea. I checked my items inventory online, saw it was in stock at my store, noted its location in the warehouse, and used the self-checkout when picking it up. Bam. Not one human interaction the whole way. Admittedly, this is pretty basic A-commerce these days, but a good indication of modern consumer behavior as I would have shopped elsewhere if this wasn’t available.
Today, we see two companies that didn’t nail the A-commerce experience. I grew up with both, and both have filed for bankruptcy. Getting Lego as a kid from Toys R Us is a fond memory. I even remember buying my first vacuum from Sears for some odd reason. Either way, this shows other big retail players that if they don’t step up their game to meet brick-and-mortar retail with online automation, then retail is in for another hit.
Here are seven examples of innovative technology companies pushing the A-commerce revolution and one example of a traditional retail giant slowing down just to keep up.
Acorns – Micro Investing
Acorn’s A-commerce strategy is to help invest in your future without you even noticing. Sound’s weird, doesn’t it? They accomplish this through micro-investing. The app sets aside $1-3 USD every month, then automatically diversifies your money across 7,000 stocks and bonds.
Revolut – Travel Insurance
As an avid traveler, I think this one is brilliant. Revolut’s app provides pay-per-day travel insurance with a geolocator that automatically notifies Revolut which country you are in as you move. Their basic version is as low as one British Pound per day, covering the customer for medical and dental. Again, brilliant. Options are available for additional coverage of baggage and cancellations. Revolut is one of the strongest cases of successfully automated commerce I have seen in a while.
Google – Sophisticated AI
Google has developed an AI assistant that can make phone calls and interact with people to set appointments. This one keeps blowing my mind and freaking me out, with the way the AI “Ums” and “Ahs” its way through a conversation to sound more human. This is known as speech disfluency. I am sure the Duplex assistant will be clumsy and full of bugs at the beginning, but so were the first smartphones, and look how far they’ve come. Eventually, we acclimatize. Duplex is an extreme example of advanced AI and deep learning used in A-commerce.
Amazon – Err… Everything?
This is a tough one because Amazon is taking over America. They have numerous fitting examples of automation, but for this A-commerce advancement, I am only focusing on an improvement they are trying to make – drone delivery. Amazon has all the tools to make it happen, but the reason the test delivery video below is two years old (and in England), would be that Amazon is still lobbying Washington to have drone flight laws changed in the US. Not to worry, they have the money and influence to keep it up.
Finery – Digital Wardrobe
Their website goes straight to the point on the homepage, reading Hey wardrobe, meet the internet. Finery connects to your email and builds a custom wardrobe based on your shopping receipts. Users can upload information about the clothes they already own to help build their customer wardrobe faster. In turn, Finery sends suggestions for you to favorite as it learns your personal style, including filling gaps in your wardrobe with suggested items and accessories, even sending price discount alerts for your favorited items.
Alibaba – Staff-less Café
Retail giant Alibaba (think China’s Amazon) released an entirely staff-less café in 2017 as a way to test their expansion into physical retail and how the public would receive completely staff-less interactions in person. You enter the café with an app on your phone and a facial recognition scan, you leave the same way and the items are charged, completely cashless, to your phone. Of any example being a sign of the changing times to come, this is it.
Smartcart – Smart Physical Retail
Smartcart combines up-to-date technology with traditional shopping. A tablet mounted to your cart automates the process with navigation and locating products, managing your shopping list, providing product information from price to nutrients, suggesting recipes and ingredients, and prompting the user about special offers – I see advertising options here. They are calling it a fully autonomous shopping cart.
Walmart – Smart-ish Shopping
Walmart has enjoyed years of being the big boy in charge when it comes to retail. But now, to combat Amazon’s effective A-commerce, they have dived in too deep and found themselves needing to dial back. Walmart released Scan & Go in 2017 across a majority of North American branches and in their UK branches (known as Asda). Scan & Go is a handheld scanner picked up at the entrance and holstered on your cart.
While shopping, you scan items for information and to register them into your cart, allowing you to pack as you go and pay without re-scanning at a dedicated Scan & Go checkout. Unfortunately for Walmart, they rolled this out too fast and at too big a scale, without testing to see how the public would react. The public did not adapt quick enough to support the scale Walmart burst into, and now the handhelds are only found in the UK’s Asda and a few select locations in America. There was even an app version for Android and iOS devices, but it has been scrapped completely.
I was able to try Scan & Go at an Asda in Loughborough, England. To me, it didn’t add much more value to my usual shopping experience, but I did enjoy the Wild West style scan gunning products and holstering my scanner like a cowboy.
If the company mentioned above is not available in your country, view it as a sign of something new to come.
And yes, I am aware of the job losses to come. But are the jobs really lost? Or simply shifted or displaced? The companies listed will create new jobs. The problem lies in the type of increased job skill required. A cashier replaced by a smart app might have a challenging time becoming a coder or engineer to support the maintenance of the app or development of new ones. It seems both employees and their companies will need to adapt and improve to meet the A-commerce revolution head on.
Let me know what you think of A-commerce and other digital developments in the comments.