When you go to buy something online, where do you visit first? 9 out ten you probably just said Amazon. The Silicon Valley giant has spread to every corner of the world and is one of the most convenient (and best) ways to shop. Whether it’s groceries, clothes, the latest gadgets or on-demand movies, Amazon has what you need. And now physical Amazon stores also cover your in-person purchases, with Amazon Fresh.
Also known as Amazon Go in the US, Amazon Fresh is the company’s line of physical convenience stores. Much like a Co-Op or a Tesco Express for us Brits, or a 7 Eleven for Americans, these stores focus on the essentials. But there is a twist. Rather than queuing to pay and reinforcing British stereotypes, you can just walk out. And no one will sue you either.
The last major innovation in in-person shopping was contactless payments, but that’s now old news. These Amazon Fresh stores are completely checkout-less, literally allowing you to walk out. Filled with all sorts of smart tech, we go to one of the stores to find out how they work and if they’re any good.
How do Amazon Fresh stores work?
When you walk into an Amazon Fresh store, things couldn’t be simpler. Just launch the Amazon app on your phone, head to the shopping cart, and tap Fresh code just below the search bar at the top. You will then see a QR code appear on your screen. Scan this at the turnstiles, like you would scan a boarding pass at the airport.
The doors will open for you, and that’s it. You are there! You will also find a staff member at the gates to help you if you get stuck. Once you get through the doors, you can just walk through the store like you would any other. Simple, right? But the technology inside is another story.
In order to provide the “just a walk away” experience, Amazon needs to know what you’re buying and when you’re leaving. It sounds simple, but it’s actually quite complicated.
To track where you are, Amazon has installed an array of hundreds of cameras in every Fresh store. They follow you around the store, but there’s no facial recognition. Everything is processed in-store or on the app, and all data is deleted within 30 days. The smart store just needs to know where you are.
These same cameras also monitor what you pick up and drop off, so Amazon knows exactly what you’re buying. There are no giant barcodes on products for cameras to spot. Instead, they use AI to identify items and where they are in the store to confirm if it’s correct. You wouldn’t look for toothpaste in Sandwich Island, would you?
In addition to the cameras, each shelf includes a weight sensor. The sensor detects when you pick up an item and can determine what it is based on weight. The AI combines this data with the rest to ensure that it has the right products.
And when are you ready to go? Return to the gates, which open ready for your departure, like your own personal doorman. There is a station for packing your bags and for cutlery if you have purchased groceries from the store. Amazon will automatically charge your preferred card when you leave and you can go about your day as usual. Go to your inbox or the app for a receipt.
A selection worthy of the queen: what’s in an Amazon Fresh?
As a fairly small convenience store, you probably wouldn’t be able to do your weekly shopping at an Amazon Fresh. But you could get close. Each store offers household essentials, toiletries, pantry foods, fresh foods, and more. Everything you expect to find in your corner store, you can also expect to find here.
Among Amazon’s fresh selection are pastries, drinks, sandwiches, sushi and more. There’s even a coffee machine nearby for hot drinks (better than the Costa machines lurking in most Tesco Express stores, don’t worry), complete with Amazon-branded coffee mugs.
At the back of the store, there’s even a handy Amazon return point. Like the rest of the store, you won’t need to interact with anyone. Using the app (spot the trend?), you can drop off your Amazon items for easy return. And maybe grab a cheeky croissant on the way out.
Can they be deceived?
Amazon is so secure that the technology can’t be beat, there’s not even an option to add products it missed in the app. You can remove items you haven’t purchased, but not add them. Sounds like a challenge to us! Summoning my inner Indiana Jones, I shopped around the Amazon Fresh store to see what I could snag.
Like the real Raiders of the Lost Ark, I tried the old switcheroo trick with two similar water bottles to see if the weight sensors could be fooled. Alas, Amazon Fresh correctly determined which bottle I ended up picking up.
Similar tests have proven to be about as effective – if at all. Throwing an item into the Amazon branded bag as quickly as possible didn’t fool the cameras. Picking up something and putting it back either. Nor did putting it back in the wrong place (which I corrected in the end because, these people).
The few employees at Amazon Fresh must be tired of people trying this, but it’s a lot of fun. Either the smart store doesn’t cheat easily, or I’m a budding trash thief. A bit of both is probably more likely.
The future is here: Is Amazon Fresh any good?
Clearly, Amazon Fresh offers a convenient and frictionless way to shop. Not having to wait in line to pay is so much faster that it will make you want to do your essential shopping at Amazon Fresh stores. The lack of human interaction can only be a good thing in this post-pandemic digital age. And, the system seems foolproof. What’s not to like?
Currently, there are only 16 UK stores spread across central London. We’re hoping Amazon opens a few more later, but the company has yet to announce any new locations. In perhaps the world’s leading supermarket rating, Amazon Fresh deserves five stars.
If you’re anything like us, you spend way too much time (and money) on Amazon. The online retailer took over internet shopping because it was so convenient, and everyone else followed suit. Now that there’s also a physical store to go to…we’re going to have our bank in play thinking our cards have been cloned. This is the shopping experience we
want to need deserve, and that’s not too far off.