Promising to streamline grab and go shopping into a tech‐driven, checkout (and stress) free experience, the first Amazon Fresh branch in the UK opened last week. But how well does the entirely contactless experience measure up? The Grocer visited to find out
Amazon Fresh in Ealing, west London, promises shoppers speedy ease thanks to the absence of tills. The checkout-less convenience grocery store is the e-commerce giant’s first physical retail site outside North America using its ‘Just Walk Out’ technology.
Customers scan a QR code generated when they log in to the Amazon app at the turnstiles, pick up what they want and leave. Cameras and motion sensors track what they take, and once they have left the store a receipt is generated and delivered directly to their Amazon account.
Five employees were monitoring the 50-minute queue when The Grocer visited last weekend. They explained clearly how the technology worked and answered customers’ queries and concerns, including those regarding unreliable wi-fi. Their focus wasn’t even swayed by an anti-Amazon protestor.
However, despite their efforts and the wealth of signage in the queue and around the store, several shoppers were still unsure about how the tech worked once they landed at the front of the line.
Covid-19 played a part in the hype around the Amazon Fresh store landing on UK soil and it certainly offers a pandemic-friendly shopping experience. Customers don’t have to touch anything aside from the items they purchase. Baskets and trolleys are not provided - shoppers either place their products into their own bags or can buy a reusable Amazon Fresh bag for £1.
Face masks and hand sanitiser were readily available and social distancing was strongly encouraged in the queue, but not so much inside. A couple of the six members of staff and security guards failed to maintain a two-metre distance, while others did not know where products were located or whether they were stocked. Another abandoned a replenishment trolley, creating a bottleneck of shoppers.
The 2,500 sq ft store stocks hundreds of Amazon and Morrisons own-label products and big-name brands, giving customers a broad variety to choose from across categories such as fresh produce, dairy, hot and cold food to go (located right by the entrance), ready meals, world foods and ambient items near the back.
The blend of own-label and branded items differs from product to product. For bread, there’s Hovis, Warburtons and Morrisons’ premium own-label range The Best, while for baked beans all three available SKUs are Heinz. And as for milk, there are one, two and four-pint Amazon own-brand cartons in skimmed, semi‐skimmed and full fat varieties alongside two litres of semi‐skimmed and full-fat Cravendale.
Alcohol and spirits make an appearance too, but the fixture is guarded by the team and any customers browsing must show ID.
Amazon Fresh feels like the cooler younger brother of a Sainsbury’s Local, but it would be hard to miss the hundreds of motion and depth sensors and cameras circling around customers, overseeing their every move.
The tech is very accurate: we weren’t charged for anything we didn’t put in our bag and actually leave the store with.
The app was straightforward to use, especially with guidance from the staff, though some other shoppers said they found it “clunky”, “confusing” and “time-consuming”.
The store’s intuitive layout followed the natural progression of quick shopping missions, starting with grab and go, moving on to fruit & vegetables, food for tonight, meat and fish, ambient lines, dairy and drinks.
While there are amenities typically found in rival convenience stores such as coffee to go (with dairy‐free milk supplied by Oatly), the grab and go section would be more at home at Pret a Manger or M&S with its gourmet selection of hot and cold items such as sandwiches, soup, wraps and pasta. It also boasts other elements of Amazon tech, such as an Amazon order collection and return point and dedicated display of Amazon devices.
It would be both tricky and expensive to do a weekly shop at Amazon Fresh. Take milk for instance: two litres of Cravendale will set shoppers back £2 compared with £1.85 at large Tesco branches and £1.60 at Sainsbury’s.
But the seamlessness of ‘Just Walk Out’ tech certainly saves a few minutes of queueing for a self‐checkout, and its novelty is just enough to make the shopping experience engaging overall.