Just today as I walked into Whole Foods to grab my lunch, I noticed there was a stack of Amazon Echoes right up front nearly blocking the produce section entirely, which reminded me Amazon and Whole Foods are totally a thing now. Now more than ever feels like the end of retail as we know it, while at the same time representing a gigantic lateral step into an entirely new, but old-fashioned, business model for the global online retailer. Already things are changing. The prices of Whole Foods is coming down.
Form is becoming increasingly wedded to function as technology matures. We used to buy TVs that looked like furniture and now they’re barely 3-dimensional. Our phones used to be fastened to walls and now they’re connected to the air. We want our technology to disappear into the content we’re enjoying. Amazon is no different, really. The stuff is the content and Amazon is the medium of access. And we want that access 24/7 no matter where we are, so the modern store is now formless and everywhere.
There used to be stores for everything. Shoe stores, bowl stores, fish stores, a store for everything. Then the smaller stores were bundled up into bigger department stores. Department stores were swallowed by malls. And now malls are now being emptied by Amazon. (Maybe. Let’s come back to that another time.)
Is it a bad thing? I mean stores take up a lot of space. They’re called “stores” for a reason—they’re basically just big dressed up warehouses so people can walk around and browse and handle the things they want. They save us the effort of driving to the docks or the borders each time we want to pick up a new pair of shoes, but they take up a lot of real estate in our communities—real estate that might be parks, schools or affordable housing. And they’re not usually very pretty from the outside.
Sure, some things you want to see in person. You want to kick the tires of a car before you buy it. I can imagine, however, a time when you get the same or greater level of detail through augmented or virtual reality. And if you don’t need to drive to get everything, maybe you don’t even need the car. We can dream can’t we?
Of course it’s scary to think of one retailer to rule them all. People don’t have a great track record with unchecked power and influence. Bezos doesn’t strike me as a Buddha so I’m inclined to lump him in with the rest of us flawed folk. He’s already bought a newspaper which isn’t unprecedented except people have already brought up the potential conflict of interest of a major outlet having to cover a sibling company as large as Amazon, not to mention the CIA rumors.