Amazon Wembley Store-7

Amazon’s checkout-free ‘Just Walk Out’ technology will remain in all UK Amazon Fresh stores, despite the e-commerce giant’s decision to strip it out of US locations.

The company confirmed to The Grocer the move to remove the cameras, weighted shelves and extensive computing from its large format Amazon Fresh stores Stateside, “does not affect the UK at this time”.

In an interview with The Information, Tony Hoggett, Amazon’s global grocery stores chief, said the company was shifting its focus away from its ‘frictionless’ Just Walk Out, which allows customers to scan their phones on entry to a store, fill their bags with products and leave without any interaction with staff or a self-checkout machine. Instead it is prioritising Dash Carts – a trolley fitted with self-scan devices as well as a built-in weighing scale in the basket, and touchscreen to view live receipts and product recommendations. The strategy also involves a revamp this year of existing Fresh locations across the US into what Hoggett called “version two” stores.

“We’ve invested a lot of time redesigning a number of our Amazon Fresh stores over the last year, offering a better overall shopping experience with more value, convenience, and selection – and so far we’ve seen positive results, with higher customer shopping satisfaction scores and increased purchasing,” an Amazon spokeswoman told The Grocer.

“We’ve also heard from customers that while they enjoyed the benefit of skipping the checkout line with Just Walk Out, they also wanted the ability to easily find nearby products and deals, view their receipt as they shop, and know how much money they saved while shopping throughout the store. To deliver even more convenience to our customers, we’re rolling out Amazon Dash Cart, our smart-shopping carts, which allows customers all these benefits including skipping the checkout line,” she added.

The revamped stores will also feature self-checkouts as well as assisted, manned checkout options.

Amazon has more than 40 Amazon Fresh stores in the US, as well as convenience stores under the Amazon Go brand (the equivalent of the Amazon Fresh brand in the UK). More than half are equipped with Just Walk Out tech.

dash cart

Source: Amazon

All of Amazon’s physical retail sites in the UK have been fitted with the tech, which can also be found in Sainsbury’s Smartshop Pick & Go store in Holborn and a clutch of convenience stores, arenas and conference centres. The technology will remain in use in all third-party run locations in the UK and US.

The company launched its first Amazon Fresh store in the UK – which was its first physical retail site outside North America – in Ealing in 2021. It offered customers a “new convenience grocery format” Amazon said at the time, and the first opportunity for Brits to use its Just Walk Out technology. It reportedly planned to open hundreds of Fresh stores in the UK, but the rollout has been slow, now standing at 18, all of which are in London except one in Sevenoaks, Kent.

In July last year, the company announced the Ealing store was to close, along with two others, in Wandsworth and East Sheen. The company has been refining the shopping experience, last year removing entry gates to several stores, with customers instead scanning the app as they leave.

Amazon Fresh has been struggling to make its mark in UK grocery, and attract the footfall of its ‘with checkout’ convenience store rivals. Equivalent checkout-free stores – such as Tesco GetGo, Sainsbury’s Smartshop Pick & Go and Aldi Shop&Go – have also failed to capture the consumer imaginations.

“Amazon’s UK rollout has effectively ground to a halt, and so have most competitors’ plans,” said PwC senior retail advisor Kien Tan. “I’m a regular shopper – I love a bargain, and there are always discount vouchers to entice you in – but I’m about the only one, and it’s safe to say the till-free concept hasn’t taken off in the UK. While the finger has pointed at the weakness of Amazon’s retail offering, it’s clear from how empty competitor offerings also are that convenience store shoppers just don’t get it.

“There clearly are useful applications of this technology, but they’re unlikely to be in UK convenience stores,” Tan added. “Apply this to busy travel hubs, sports stadia, or workplace grab ‘n’ go cafés, and you can see where there might be demand. But I strongly doubt they will be a fixture of UK high streets in the foreseeable future.”