WHAT IS IT?
The Amazon Fresh store is a contactless grocery shop available to anyone with an Amazon account.
Amazon Fresh was initially launched as an online-only grocer for Amazon Prime members in the UK in 2016, and is currently available in a limited number of postcodes.
The tech giant has opened a batch of contactless convenience stores across the US already, all of which trade under the Amazon Go fascia. It then opened the first ever Amazon Fresh store in LA in August last year, this time a full-sized physical grocery store compared to the convenience format of Amazon Go.
Amazon opened its first ever Amazon Fresh store outside the US on March 4 in Ealing, west London. Within two weeks, a second store opened at Wembley Park, also in west London. Both stores are 2500sq ft, making them smaller than regular supermarkets, but still larger than a convenience store.
Retail Gazette visited the Ealing store, which stocks about 10,000 grocery products including brands such as Heinz and Kelloggs, and items from Morrisons, Booths and Mindful Chef.
Amazon also stocks its first own-brand grocery range – By Amazon – which includes frequently bought items such as milk and bread as well as pizzas, dips and cakes.
HOW DOES IT WORK?
Customers must scan in a code on their phone using the Amazon app in order to enter the Amazon Fresh store.
Upon entering, customers can choose between a free paper bag or a £1 reusable bag to place their goods in.
Shoppers can pick up the goods they want without scanning them or even visiting a till.
Sensors on the shelves detect when an item has been removed while cameras and other technology backed by AI monitor individuals’ movement around the store and the goods chosen.
The bill is automatically charged to a shopper’s Amazon account when they leave the store.
Anything a customer takes off the shelf is automatically added to their virtual cart. Anything they put back on the shelf is removed from their virtual cart.
The Amazon Fresh store also features an Amazon Hub, where customers can pick up and return items that they have bought online from the retailer.
The store also offers an Amazon meal deal, which retailers such as Tesco, Boots and the Co-op currently offer.
The meal deal section offers a variety of meals, snacks and drinks. The meal comes at its standard price, then customers can add any drink and snack on top for £1.
Amazon Fresh also offers a bakery section with fresh bread baked on site.
In the pharmacy section, there are coasters that customers can take to the Amazon Hub to exchange for medicine.
The store also offers a Free From section for customers with gluten allergies.
A non-food aisle is also on display, featuring Amazon Fresh merchandise along with batteries and birthday cards.
Amazon Fresh also has an alcohol selection in store, but this requires a store employee to check for ID.
Once ID has been approved, customers can observe the alcoholic range, which is located in an enclosed section of the store.
HOW WELL DOES IT WORK?
Amazon Fresh has endeavoured to create a hassle-free shopping experience for customers.
While customers don’t need to interact with a member of staff, the store still employs about 30 people and has around five workers on site at any time to handle queries, restock shelves and prepare food.
Customers can enter the store and avoid trolleys, speed-packing at the till or having to deal with cash and card payments.
They are billed once they exit the store, with Amazon also recording the amount of time spent in there.
Although Amazon Fresh has presented a clean, organised and efficient store, the hundreds of cameras dangling from the ceiling gave the store a dystopian sense.
While non-essential stores remain closed under lockdown, the store was undoubtedly filling up with eager shoppers looking to occupy their spare time. This stirs up the idea as to whether the store is a fad, or whether customers will warm up to this new way of shopping.
Retail Gazette also found that the receipt took a couple of hours to come through, so the shopper is left with no clue as to how much was spent in store immediately after leaving.
Meanwhile, the store’s location – Ealing – is over an hour away from central London. This begs the question as to why Amazon has chosen this location, especially if the online retail giant wants to capitalise on high footfall from tourists after the Covid pandemic.
When entering the store, customers will need to be aware that Amazon Fresh presents a solo shopping experience. If a customers picks up an item and passes it to another customer, the weight sensors and cameras will assume that they put the product in their bag, and will therefore be charged.
The lack of trolley may also present a challenge for customers who have adapted to stacking up and organising their products in-store.
Nevertheless, the shopping experience feels safe and secure given the amount of surveillance in-store.
The requirement for a QR code may also deter shoppers who have not yet embraced technology.
Despite this, being able to exit the store without queuing up could attract customers in the near future as they switch from online shopping to bricks-and-mortar post-lockdown.