After conquering e-commerce, Jeff Bezos is working to take over the physical world, too.
Everything old is new again. Nearly one year after announcing plans to open its first brick-and-mortar bookstore, Amazon, having conquered e-commerce, is now planning to establish a beachhead in another corner of the physical world: convenience and grocery stores. The Wall Street Journal reports that the small storefronts would be stocked with perishable grocery items like milk and produce, and would allow for curbside pickup of groceries. Customers could also possibly use their smartphones to order nonperishable goods like cereal to their homes for same-day delivery.
Internally code-named Project Como, the twist on Amazon’s existing subscription grocery-delivery service, Amazon Fresh, shows the e-commerce giant continuing to experiment with a segment of the market that remains unsettled. Customers using online grocery-delivery services like Instacart have had some apprehension about relying on someone else picking out produce for them. A service like Amazon’s would allow customers to have some degree of autonomy over their purchases, but would still allow for a more efficient checkout process than a traditional big-box retailer like Walmart or a typical grocery store. The Journal reports that Amazon is working on license-plate-reading technology to help facilitate faster checkouts. Customers could place online grocery orders and then pull up to a drive-in location to quickly pick up their orders.
A spokeswoman for Amazon told Quartz in an e-mail that the company doesn’t comment “on rumors or speculation.”
Amazon’s foray into brick-and-mortar comes at a time when other companies in the super-hot food-delivery space are grappling with money-losing operations. Jack Dorsey’s mobile-payments company, Square, has reportedly been having trouble finding a buyer for Caviar, the food-delivery company it bought a couple years ago and is now seeking to offload. Food-delivery start-up DoorDash raised a down-round earlier this year, and other on-demand food-delivery services like SpoonRocket have shut down entirely. Meanwhile, shares of GrubHub, the most successful example of a food-delivery company gone public, are up 64 percent in 2016.
For now, the only proof of concept of Amazon’s new grocery endeavor is taking shape in Seattle, whereGeekwire reports that Amazon is building a drive-through grocery store. “When placing an online order, customers will schedule a specific 15-minute to two-hour pick up window. Peak time slots will sell out, which will help manage traffic flow within the customer parking adjacent to the building,” a planning document for the building reads. “When picking up purchased items, customers can either drive into a designated parking area with eight parking stalls where the purchased items will be delivered to their cars or they can walk into the retail area to pick up their items. Customers will also be able to walk into the retail room to place orders on a tablet. Walk in customers will have their products delivered to them in the retail room.”
If that sounds a lot like a brick-and-mortar shopping experience—albeit with more technological bells and whistles—that’s because it is. While traditional stores have been taking their cues from Silicon Valley—adding Square card readers, iPad-enabled checkout lines, and integrating with apps for everything from making reservations to reserving items online—Amazon is effectively working backward from the e-commerce space, reverse-engineering what a physical grocery store might look like. Those similarities even extend to its membership structure. As with members-only warehouse stores like Sam’s Club or Costco, Amazon’s convenience-store concept would only serve Fresh customers who pay a $15 monthly subscription fee on top of their annual $99-per-year Prime delivery service for same-day grocery delivery. The end result, notably, doesn’t sound so different than what exists in some cities now, just with more Amazon flair.