Amazon Key and the Acceleration of Change

Simon Eskow eCommerce articles Leave a Comment

Reading about Amazon Key reminded me of a question from a recent conversation with a friend. Are we living in a time of radical change? Or is it just a middle-aged rite of passage to talk about how different everything was when you were a kid?

My friend thinks so. After all, she said, every generation says, “Why, back in my day…”. I interpreted that to mean that every generation witnesses the same rate of change (political, economic, social, technological, etc.) This might be true in many respects. However, when it comes to technology and shopping, the change from 20 or 25 years ago really is remarkable.

Technology Has Completely Changed How We Shop

The way we shopped in the mid-1990s was pretty much the way we shopped in the 1970s. In either period, physical retail was your primary shopping option. Fast forward another 20 years, and thanks to technology, you can shop in a store, on your phone, or in your home. (And with the controversial Amazon Key, you don’t even have to be there when the courier delivers your order. But more on that later.)

Same Old, Same Old

Let’s say you wanted to buy something in the mid-1970s (clothes, an appliance, toys, etc.). First and foremost, you’d go to the mall, department store or other physical retailers. Alternatively, you might flip through a printed catalog and place orders by mail or phone. (Phones, remember, were stationary, analog and audio-only). Occasionally, a salesman would come by to pitch encyclopedias or a vacuum cleaner. How was 1995 that much different? Perhaps cable shopping networks wiped out the door-to-door salesman. Maybe email reduced postal orders. But otherwise, brick-and-mortar remained the dominant channel.

Technology Changed Everything

How different things are now, thanks to the acceleration of technological change. Since the 1990s, the Internet went from static HTML to the dynamic, multi-media web. Dial-up gave way to broadband while computers became pamphlet-thin. And smartphones arrived with more computing power than you could possibly need to process the data now running over 4G mobile networks. This foundation consequently gave rise to the omnichannel world that shoppers take for granted today. It allows them to shop and buy at any time, from any location.

So, What About Amazon Key?

So, what’s next? Probably no other company has had such an impact on how people buy and sell than Amazon. Its dominance relies to a large extent on its mastery of logistics, which gets products to customers’ doors cheaply and quickly. With Amazon Key, the company wants to open the customers’ door as well. Using a $250 door-lock/webcam setup, Amazon customers can allow delivery people access when they are not home. (The camera records the delivery for security purposes). Anecdotally, some people aren’t comfortable with this particular technological capability. Personally speaking, that would never fly, back in my day.

The Mechanism for Modern Selling

Whether consumers take to Amazon Key or not, the way people shop and buy will continue to change. Businesses must have the mechanism in place to adapt to how their customers behave. For that, they need an integrated system for managing and automating omnichannel sales and fulfillment.


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