Bali Raghavan, director of Amazon’s “just walk out" technology Amazon Go, has left for real estate startup Opendoor, where he will serve as vice president of engineering, Recode reports. He will relocate from Seattle to Silicon Valley for the new role, unnamed sources told Recode. A request for comment to Amazon from Retail Dive wasn’t immediately returned.
According to his Linkedin profile, Raghavan "spearheaded the computer vision, sensor fusion, artificial intelligence, machine learning and distributed systems that automatically detect when products are taken from or returned to the shelves and keeps track of them in a customer’s virtual cart.”
The futuristic store, which was unveiled in December, remains open only to Amazon employees, and an Amazon spokesperson told Recode Tuesday there’s no update on timing for its public availability. Hiccups in real-world tests of the technology have caused delays: Its automated systems have been disrupted when the store is crowded with more than 20 people or if shoppers move too quickly, The Wall Street Journal reported in March.
Physical stores have become a necessary facet of Amazon’s strategy to nurture and grow its Prime ecosystem, a virtual retail cyclone that includes not just a massive assortment of goods (including a growing number of private-label products in many categories) and multimedia services, but also an expanding series of devices and technologies designed to make shopping at Amazon even more friction-free and accessible. Plus, a Retail Dive survey shows most consumers prefer shopping physical stores for a variety of reasons, above all the opportunity to see and touch merchandise. The e-commerce giant's $13.7 billion purchase of Whole Foods, announced last week, is just the most recent and most prominent sign of those ambitions.
Amazon isn’t simply opening stores, however; it’s also attempting to revolutionize physical retail through technology and various pricing schemes also meant to favor its sticky Prime membership base, the engine behind its extraordinary growth. Although the premium on tech is introducing hiccups, that doesn’t mean Amazon will ultimately fail, according to Stephan Schambach, founder and CEO of mobile retail platform NewStore.
“Amazon is one of the best companies when it comes to focusing on the problem first, then the solution. This doesn’t always translate to success, but it’s impossible to deny Amazon is the most customer obsessed retailer out there,” Schambach told Retail Dive in an email. “While parts of the experience might seem clunky, in the store it may work well. Or, they are iterating through the problem and will simplify the offering over time. The miscalculation most people make with Amazon is judging the current state of their efforts and assuming it’s the final product. To understand Amazon, it’s crucial to remember that nothing is ever finished and everything is always being improved.”
For now, those improvements will apparently take place without Raghavan at the helm.