Tech by VICE

How Amazon's Tech Could Change Whole Foods

How long before drones are delivering us emergency organic cat food?

by Carl Franzen
Jun 16 2017, 7:04pm

Image sources: Amazon/Whole Foods. Composite by Motherboard.

The US grocery industry was thrust into the national spotlight on Friday when Amazon announced it was buying Whole Foods for $13.7 billion.

While many were initially shocked by the news, it's not totally surprising given Amazon's business ambitions and the state of Whole Foods. Amazon's own grocery store service, Amazon Fresh, has been operating since 2007 and steadily expanded from a few small markets to a handful of major cities around the world.

Meanwhile, Whole Foods has been struggling with declining sales for more than a year straight, and its leadership has been locked in an acrimonious public battle with activist investors over the future direction of the company.

Antitrust regulators still have to approve the deal—which may prove difficult. And there's a lot to unpack if it goes through, not the least of which are the implications it has for competitors like Walmart (which today also made headlines with an acquisition of its own), smaller grocery and retail chains, local economics, the food supply, American labor, transportation, and more.

Yet Amazon is as its heart a technology company (lest we forget, it was founded in midst of the dot com bubble in 1994 as an online book retailer), and to this day it produces some of the most futuristic and invasive consumer technology available.

Setting aside the larger concerns, here are some obvious Amazon technologies that make sense connected to Whole Foods and will probably make the combined companies a ton of money from those of us who have problems controlling our rampant online consumerism (*raises hand*).

Echo/Alexa
Amazon's quickly growing family of interactive speaker devices are already perfect for dictating your shopping list. But they've been limited in what they can order to Amazon's offerings (and participating third-parties). Once Whole Foods is absorbed, it would seem very convenient to be able to speak and add items to your grocery list for delivery as soon as you run out of them.

Amazon Now
This is Amazon's fast, same-day delivery service for small items. If Amazon links Whole Foods to this, and does a good job of narrowing those delivery windows, those of us who have Amazon Now in our cities should theoretically never have to rush off to the store for forgotten recipe ingredients.

Amazon Prime Air
Drone delivery. Amazon has been teasing this idea since 2013, and it still has a long way to go in terms of both legality and practicality here in the US. But again, it's not hard to imagine a dystopian on-demand future where instead of going to your local corner bodega/store, you shout for emergency cat food into your Echo and it uses Amazon Now to call an Amazon Prime Air drone over to your house with a can for the little tyrants.

Kiva Robotics
Amazon bought this company back in 2012, and has been using its robots to move stuff around its warehouses and fulfillment centers ever since. Might make sense to set a few loose in the Whole Foods stockrooms to help move stuff around.

Amazon Go
Amazon apparently wants to eliminate the idea of human cashiers and checking out entirely. Earlier this year, the company dropped a flashy video showing its idea for Amazon Go, an automated store that tracks what items you take off the shelves and automatically bills your account using a smartphone app as you leave. It hasn't actually been deployed for the public anywhere yet, but it could eliminate checkout lines and put a hell of a out of people out of jobs.

Amazon Logistics and Amazon Flex
These two services are Amazon's delivery subcontractors. Whether you're a delivery company or individual, Amazon wants to hire you to deliver the mountains of shit people order from its websites every day. Groceries are a natural fit, unless Amazon wants to keep around…

Amazon Fresh
Amazon's still nascent grocery service. Pros: you can order directly online and buy a lot of more affordable, big brand products not available at Whole Foods (e.g. non-organic cat food). Cons: there's not really any brick-and-mortar stores for you to go and pick out the produce you want. And it's wasteful—lots of packaging for the simplest foods. The Whole Foods merger could combine the "best" of both worlds (though the Amazon Fresh and Whole Foods brand names coexisting together seems a bit confusing).

AWS
The Whole Foods website and apps will probably migrate over to Amazon's Web Service, if they haven't already.

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