By adding conventional self-checkout tills to its proprietary ‘just walk out’ technology at its latest Fresh store, has Amazon finally cracked the ‘convenience’ part of the c-store?
Yesterday, Amazon opened its 20th Fresh convenience store in Notting Hill, west London. Like its predecessors, the store offers customers the chance to pay using its proprietary ‘just walk out’ technology, but it’s one of the first stores to also offer self-checkout tills – a strategic shift for the giant as it continues to experiment with its brick-and-mortar portfolio.
I was there on the day the first Amazon Fresh opened in early March 2021 to huge queues of customers in Ealing who were keen to get a glimpse at how this ‘revolutionary’ technology worked first-hand.
However, despite the fanfare, the much-vaunted technology had some issues. The QR code generated by the Prime app to enter the store didn’t work, and it took nearly 10 minutes – and a few different cards – to gain entry.
After picking up a few products, I was able to exit faster than I had entered, but to this day I’ve never been charged for that lunchtime meal deal.
Despite the teething problems, the long-awaited opening of the Fresh format sent shockwaves through UK grocery retail and led the established giants, such as Tesco and Sainsbury’s and discounter Aldi, to tinker with their own versions of a cashierless format – with mixed results.
Fresh payment issues
Nearly three years on, I visited the new Notting Hill store yesterday to see if the addition of self-service checkouts have improved the experience.
Customers to the new store don’t have to scan a QR code to enter the shop now, which is certainly a more seamless experience.
And, despite it being lunchtime, it was very quiet inside the store. Indeed, at any point, there were three Amazon employees for every customer.
In terms of the offer, the new Fresh store has a good selection of food-to-go meals for lunchtime shoppers, a selection of third-party brands such as Morrisons and Booths, and a wide selection of its own-brand byAmazon Christmas range.
The store also retains the grab-and-go coffee station seen in the first store, although there was no sign of the fresh hot food in-store kitchen or artisanal baker Flour Station which was much trumpeted at the time of the first store opening.
Pricing-wise, Amazon Fresh has been price-matching against Tesco since 2022. At £3.90, a lunchtime meal deal is the same price as a similar offering at a Tesco Express, although slightly more expensive than the £3.50 at a Sainsbury’s Local.
However, there were issues again when it came time to pay. Given that the self-checkout tills are the new feature, I decided to use them to see if they improved the experience. I then spent five minutes or so explaining to a store attendant that I hadn’t made some mistake and that I wouldn’t rather use the app instead.
While the self-checkout tills have tap-and-go card readers, they don’t accept ApplePay or American Express. This meant I had to get a card out, and ended up having to punch in my pin, which is something I’ve not had to do at a supermarket since about 2017.
C is for competition
So, is this latest iteration of the Fresh store the one that’s finally cracked convenience for Amazon? Yes, and no. The offer is good, the pricing is on par with its competitors, and you can just about get in and out without having to generate a QR code.
But supplementing the technology doesn’t address Amazon Fresh’s real problem in the UK convenience market – that it simply doesn’t have anywhere near enough stores to compete with Tesco and Sainsbury’s, and it still lacks the brand recognition to make it a go-to destination for customers.
Amazon Fresh just hasn’t taken off in quite the way the retail giant would have hoped. Evidence of this is that the Notting Hill store is only its 20th Fresh format in the UK, and a number of sites in Wandsworth, south London, and even the original Ealing store, have shut their doors.
Until these issues are tackled, Amazon Fresh will continue to be at best an interesting experiment, and at worst little more than a curiosity.