Amazon Go vs. Walmart grocery pickup + my first-ever podcast

Among the big developments this weekend, I created a podcast. Note that I didn’t say I created an awesome podcast; rather, I created an audio file of me talking that I uploaded to SoundCloud and to this app called Anchor.

SoundCloud is pretty straight forward. You upload files, and you get space, and to get a lot of space, you pay money. I pay $15 per month for unlimited space, or at least I think it’s unlimited. On the other hand, the folks behind Anchor want you to podcast with your phone and pretty much only your phone, although they do give you ways to get audio files to their platform. It had been advertised to me as a one-stop podcasting shop, a place where you could upload your podcast and then distribute it everywhere.

That doesn’t seem to be the case.

The biggest benefit of SoundCloud that I can see thus far is that it creates an RSS feed for you that you can then submit to iTunes to be included in their podcasts. Having done a couple basic attempts at creating an Alexa briefing, I wonder if I could have just used the RSS feed from my SoundCloud.

But I digress.

If you’d like to listen to my first podcast, I’d appreciate it but wouldn’t blame you if you didn’t. It’s rough. And I’m working through topical concepts. My first episode was a bit business-oriented with a dash of “WTF” in that I document some personal experiences from the past week. Initially, I’m thinking I’d podcast once a week although I enjoyed the process enough that I could see myself doing it much more often.

The moniker that comes to mind is “Gray Hair, New Media.” I talk a lot about new media of all types, and I do have a slightly unique perspective in that I’m a bit older than a lot of players in this space. As I inch toward AARP eligibility (2020), I envision my perspective as one that will be in demand mostly because it’s in shorter supply.

And one of the topics I broached was my little ol’ weekend trip to Walmart. I typically go to Crest or Walmart, and it depends on whether what I’m getting is strictly groceries or wares beyond food and personal items. I enjoy Target, but low prices for basics is my jam, and Walmart beats Target most of the time. For the record, I have few moral objections to Walmart and would make the argument that providing the masses with consumer goods at the lowest possible price is damned noble. In my eyes, most of the objections people have to Walmart are mostly steeped in classism.

Don’t @ me.

When Walmart started its grocery pickup service, I had to try it. They botched my order, leaving out multiple items and charging me for them. I tried it a second time, and they got closer. However, this third time, I noticed something right off the bat: the prices I was being charged were noticeably higher online than what they are in the store. For example, a three-pack of Extra gum that normally costs me $1.98 in-store was $3.01 online.

A 28-pack of water was $4.73 online instead of $3.98, and Great Value French Roast coffee was $5.47 for a 12-pack instead of $4.47. The other item I noticed was a 6-pack of Dove soap, which was going for $8.12 online instead of $6-something.

I’m familiar with the concept of variable online pricing based on demand and other market factors. Walmart isn’t the only retailer to do this; however, they’re also not hiding it. In this Wall Street Journal article from last November, company representatives note that charging higher prices for items online is a ploy to get people to go in-store more often.

Which leads me to this: I *could* just go to Target.

There are few who would argue that the actual shopping experience isn’t way better at Target. The store is nicer. The items are nicer. But when I’m buying dish soap, lowest price wins. Every time.

Except for the fact that in 2018, lowest price is up against “saving time” more than it ever has been. It’s been said that Uber was never actually a transportation company; they’re an efficiency company. They exist to save you time. The reason podcasts are more popular than ever is because it’s something one can consume passively, such as during a commute, the proverbial killing-two-birds-with-one-stone thing.

There are a couple product reasons I go to Walmart. First, their French Roast coffee is the shit. Seriously, it’s the best French Roast coffee I’ve had, and I mean better than Starbucks or any other boutique brand. And their ‘Sam’s Choice’ water bottles are the sturdiest bottles in water-land. Again, don’t @ me: I recycle all of them.

However, Walmart’s strategy to charge more for grocery pickup — we’re not even talking delivery — is off-putting. The reason I want to pick up my groceries is to save time and because I don’t want to waddle alongside the masses in Walmart, which isn’t a product of classism as much as it is reflective of my introvert ways.

I can find alternatives to the two products I like. Def.

And that brings me to Amazon Go, the new “no checker” flagship store in Seattle.

At a senior management meeting while at Love’s last year, I told executives that in my estimation, their biggest competitor wasn’t Pilot Flying J as much as it was Amazon. Everybody’s competing with Amazon, especially in retail.

If you haven’t heard about Amazon Go, it’s a store where you don’t have to have interaction with anybody. You just load up your items and go. First, you have to download an app, and it gets swiped when you walk into the store. There are hundreds of camera hanging from the ceiling that can see what you load into your bag or backpack, and they’re looking at RFID information and basic bar codes although I don’t know exactly how their system reads everything.

Amazon is highly confident in this system, so much so that if a person gets charged for something they didn’t actually buy, they don’t need to come back to the store. Just wipe it from your bill, no questions asked. And if you don’t get charged for something, it’s on the house at least for now. The big drawback to this type of a store is that, spread out across the country over a few years, it’s liable to wipe out about 3 million checker jobs, jobs that won’t come back immediately.

Sure, there could be better jobs that develop from a new system of retail that depends much more heavily on service and technology. However, it’s possible that those new jobs don’t happen for years or even decades after these initial jobs are wiped out.

Plus, that type of shopping experience isn’t going to come with a promise of low prices, every day. At the outset, given the long lines at Seattle’s flagship store, there’s no real hope of convenience. For now, it’s just cool — and it is cool. However, if I really wanted a shopping experience without personal interaction at the very lowest prices, I would forgo both Walmart and anything like an Amazon Go and just order stuff off Amazon with my Prime account.

Can’t beat grocery shopping in your pajamas at 1 a.m., am I right?

 

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