On the morning of Friday, June 16, news broke that e-commerce giant Amazon agreed to buy Whole Foods for a whopping $13.7 billion (yes, that's billion with a "b"). The reports of Amazon's massive purchase of the upscale grocery store chain seemed to come out of nowhere, but perhaps the acquisition is not as surprising as originally thought.
Amazon has been dipping it's toes into the fresh food market for quite some time now, with its grocery delivery and pickup service, AmazonFresh. Through AmazonFresh, Prime members in select cities can shop online for produce, everyday items, and favorites from their neighborhood shops and restaurants, and then choose to have them delivered or pick them up in a drive-through location. Whole Foods will keep its brand name, operating as a subsidiary of Amazon, and it's current CEO John Mackey will continue to lead its operations. What the online retail behemoth is planning with the Whole Foods deal and its 460 brick and mortar locations throughout the US, Canada, and the UK is anyone's guess, but as Business Insider points out, this may be a pivotal step in the future of grocery shopping.
In December of 2016, Amazon revealed a high tech grocery concept called Amazon Go, that would offer prepared foods and popular grocery items in a zero-fuss setting.
You can see how the concept works in Amazon's original promo video:
In order to shop, customers download the free Amazon Go app, and swipe their phone screens to scan a QR code as they enter the store through sleek turnstiles. The app works as a digital shopping cart, each time an item is picked up it is added to your online cart, put it back and the item disappears from your phone. Using machine learning and AI technology, similar to that of a self-driving car, Amazon automatically adds the item to your cart and charges your account when you leave the store. The company spent over four years planning the cashier-less market and despite a few technical difficulties, an 1,800 square foot prototype is now open to Amazon employees in downtown Seattle.
An automated system where you simply grab the items you need and leave seems like something out of a futuristic movie now, but it could very well be the fate of Whole Foods. Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos offered little insight into the purchase and future of the grocer. "Millions of people love Whole Foods Market because they offer the best natural and organic foods, and they make it fun to eat healthy," Bezos said in a press release. "Whole Foods Market has been satisfying, delighting and nourishing customers for nearly four decades – they’re doing an amazing job and we want that to continue." But will we still be waiting our turn in checkout, watching the color-coded digital screens at Whole Foods a year from now or will we be able to walk right out the door with our organic coconut water? We'll have to wait and find out.