Amazon’s latest brick-and-mortar format is the closest the company has come to delivering a conventional grocery-store experience for shoppers. Measuring a reported 35,000 square feet – typical for a supermarket – the Amazon Fresh store is much larger than the convenience-style Amazon Go locations introduced in 2018 or the Amazon Go Grocery offshoot unveiled earlier this year.
Yet unlike a typical grocery store, Fresh was designed as the physical embodiment of the digital experience offered by Amazon’s eponymous delivery service. Immediately noticeable on the exterior of the store are curbside pickup spots designed for online shoppers waiting to pick up their orders after letting the retailer know they’re on their way to the store by checking in via Amazon’s mobile application. The process includes location tracking so orders are ready exactly when customers pull up. The Fresh store also supports same-day grocery delivery.
Eliminating the pain point of waiting, whether at the curb or in a line, has been a consistent goal for Amazon with its brick-and-mortar forays. Amazon Go and Amazon Go Grocery solved for that issue with Amazon’s experimental “just walk out” shopping technology that dazzled the industry upon its much-awaited arrival. Yet that solution currently is only feasible inside small-scale stores and came at the price of reduced scale and assortment. It also didn’t solve for the waiting required at deli counters, which were simply subtracted from Amazon Go in its early days of prototyping.
The Fresh format has added all of that back into the equation, offering a destination for full stock-up trips rather than the fill-in trips of its earlier counterparts. It boasts a robust fresh produce selection comparable to that of a full-service grocery store, including a large variety of fruits, vegetables, organic items, salad kits and herbs.
The first Fresh store is located in Woodland Hills, California, and opened to the public in September. Additional confirmed Fresh locations expected to open in the near future include Oak Lawn, Schaumburg and Naperville in Illinois, as well as Irving and North Hollywood in California. Reports have also targeted stores for Philadelphia, Seattle and the Washington, D.C. area.
The store perimeter offers distinct meat and seafood counters as well as a deli counter boasting fresh-made sushi, fresh-baked bread, made-to-order pizza, hot sandwiches and rotisserie chicken. Packaged meals, sides and meal starters are plentiful, and there are even dedicated charcuterie and artisanal cheese sections. There is also a hot bar station that is sitting empty amid COVID-19 restrictions. The store has been operating at 50% shopper capacity during the pandemic, with floor clings helping people line up in a socially distanced manner and stanchion signs outlining other expected behaviors.
The aisles stock staples such as rice, bread, pasta and canned vegetables as well as packaged household items and pet products from national, local and private brands. Those last items span all of Amazon’s banners as well as at least two new exclusive private labels: Fresh, encompassing food, and Cursive, a wine brand. Endcaps merchandise high-volume products you wouldn’t see at the Whole Foods Market chain Amazon acquired in 2017, such as Coca-Cola Co.’s flagship brand, Procter & Gamble’s Tide and PepsiCo’s Frito-Lay. Temporary displays are nonexistent, although boxes of P&G’s Pampers diapers were spotted stacked on the floor adjacent to one endcap.
The objective of saving shoppers time has remained front and center. At the counters, shoppers can scan a QR code to place their meat and seafood orders digitally so the items are prepared while they shop the rest of the store. In the produce department, an electronic scale lets consumers enter PLU numbers to check weight and print a price label, ultimately speeding up checkout.
While the store does offer traditional checkout lanes, there is also a new cashier-less option with the introduction of the Dash Cart. The location’s piece de resistance, the Dash Cart is equipped with computer vision cameras and weight sensors to automatically identify products as they are placed inside. A shopper logs into the Amazon app and scans the QR code displayed on the phone via the cart’s scanner to unlock the smart device. A user’s grocery shopping list from the Amazon app is integrated into the cart and displayed on an embedded digital screen. It shows the aisle in which each item can be found and crosses off items that have already been added.
The cart is designed to hold two grocery bags and can also scan coupons. Shoppers using the Dash Cart exit via a designated lane. The system automatically logs their purchase, charging the credit card already on file with Amazon, and emails a receipt.
Then there’s Alexa, to which Amazon has for the first time given a physical presence inside one of its stores via Echo Show devices placed in strategic locations. The assistant is intended to serve as both a wayfinding device, answering questions such as “Alexa, where can I find the ketchup,” and as a recommendation engine, delivering suggestions to queries including “Alexa, what cheese goes with cabernet?”
Fresh also takes a couple cues from Amazon’s non-food formats. The store utilizes digital price tags like those in Amazon Books and 4-Star stores. It also cross-merchandises consumer electronics such as Amazon’s Fire tablet on a table display, while a wall display offers items that have been highly rated on Amazon.com, including books and small appliances. A customer service counter adjacent to pickup lockers lets shoppers easily make “package-less” returns of online Amazon orders.