Following the launch of the sixth London Amazon Fresh store, we take a look at the till-less shopping phenomenon
Writer: Phoebe Harper
Imagine doing your food shop, bagging up your groceries as you go, and simply leaving the shop without having to approach a till, or interact with anyone. Rather than what may commonly be construed as shoplifting, the ‘just walk out’ means of shopping is actually the latest business pursuit from Amazon.
As of 16th June, Amazon officially opened their Amazon Fresh Camden premises. The Camden store represents the sixth physical retail store to be opened across London by the US commerce giant. After the unveiling of the Amazon Fresh Ealing branch back in March - the first store to be opened outside of the US - Amazon has gone on to expand its physical footprint across the British capital, launching stores in quick succession in Wembley Park, Chalk Farm, Canary Wharf, White City, and of course Camden.
The pace at which the stores opened translates to one shop opening every 19 days, which would eventuate in a total of 16 Amazon Fresh stores opening within the year across the London landscape, if this rate continues as the company look to expand across the Greater London area.
The shops offer a full range of products and groceries, including own-brand food and drink products from UK suppliers with perishables such as milk and eggs all at competitive prices. The company’s new private label brand, ‘by Amazon’ entails Amazon’s food offering within the store, from British sourced meat to freshly prepared ‘on-the-go’ food.
Amazon Fresh also offers products from UK supermarkets such as Morrisons, who already have existing ties with the company.
A trailblazing initiative offering a contactless shopping experience, which has gained more pertinence than ever in the context of the pandemic, Amazon Fresh is the first convenience store in the UK to offer Just Walk Out Technology.
Leveraging the same technological advances applied in self-driving cars, the software behind Just Walk Out uses computer vision, sensor fusion, and deep learning artificial intelligence techniques to monitor shoppers. For many experts, this latest convergence of retail and technology represents something of a watershed moment.
Inside the premises, hundreds of cameras and depth-sensors are used to oversee what customers place in their bags whilst shopping, with much of this technology being installed in the store’s ceiling. Although a highly advanced, somewhat futuristic vision of what the physical shopping experience may come to resemble, many UK shoppers have commented on the dystopian experience of the extreme surveillance within the stores.
Since no facial recognition is used, it is the individual barcode scanned via the Amazon App on entering the store that registers the individual identity of the shopper. Nevertheless, civil liberties groups have critiqued the personal data footprints that will be amassed through the stores and the intense tracking of shoppers’ habits.
The technology behind Amazon Fresh was originally pioneered in Amazon’s US stores, which were first opened to the public back in 2018. The technology is sophisticated enough to register when an item has been returned to the shelf if shoppers change their mind, so much so, that the US firm are confident that there is zero need for shoppers to double-check their virtual receipts after shopping.
Indeed, Amazon in general have been widely commended for the seamless, friction free experience that the stores provide, compared to other retailers, such as Marks & Spencer, whose contactless shopping experiences require customers to use a ‘scan-and-pay’ app. It is possible that this latest milestone from Amazon may also encourage other online businesses enter the bricks and mortar space.
The stores offer paramount convenience due to the absence of till queues and the irksome bother of ‘unidentified items in the bagging area’ so typically experienced at self-service checkouts. With other major supermarkets now also trialling the concept of ‘checkout-free’ shopping, could this be the future of retail?