Amazon, if it’s famous for just one thing it’s being an online business. But it’s just swapped the 1s and 0s for bricks and mortar, opening their first shop shop in West London this week. And it’s a shop from the future.
Already a thing in California, Amazon’s shops are very different. For a start, there’s no checkout. You just walk in and then you walk out with your stuff. Y’know, like a shoplifter.
The experience, that’s been variously described as ‘bizarre’, ‘brilliant’ and ‘bloody weird’ is set to be rolled out across the country over the coming months, so expect to get used to it quickly.
Variously described as 'bizarre', 'brilliant' and 'bloody weird'...
So how does it work? You scan a QR code on entry and then, and this will actually blow your mind, you wander round doing your shopping as cameras and depth-sensor technology watches everything you put in your bag, with no need to scan items or barcodes.
When you leave you the store your Amazon account is charged for exactly what you took.
According to Amazon, the combination of computer vision, deep learning algorithms, and sensor fusion mean that even when a customer puts an item back on the shelf, it’ll somehow just know and not charge for that item.
Which all means that they'll employ fewer staff, reducing costs as well as local employment opportunities...
The shops will be, of course, cash free with all transactions taking place online and there won’t be checkouts. Which all means that they’ll employ fewer staff, reducing costs as well as local employment opportunities.
It will be interesting to see if this style of grocery shopping, setting up as a direct competitor to the smaller versions of Britain’s existing stores (Tesco Express, Sainsbury’s Local and so on), will catch on. It’s a very busy market, with Waitrose and M&S really expanding their dominance into this size of shop too.
But, for now, the technology sets Amazon Fresh apart. Nobody else is pursuing automation to this level. Though Sainsbury’s Local are now letting you scan everything on your phone, pay using Apple Pay and walk out, cutting out the checkout experience altogether. If there’s something in it, then the big players may double down on bringing their offerings in line with Amazon Fresh.
There’s also the question of if this is what people even want. London isn’t California, a friendly chat with the same cashier every evening on the way back from work can be one of our only interactions in a day!
Campaigners arguing that Amazon doesn’t pay its fair share of tax in the UK (last year the giant paid just £293m tax on sales of £13.73bn), should potentially welcome a physical store, which will pay business rates, and be generally taxed in line with its peers for once.
But whatever your reservations, if nothing else then not having to hear ‘unexpected item in bagging area’ EVER AGAIN may prove to be too enticing to resist.
Amazon Fresh Ealing is open now, 59 The Broadway, Ealing, W5 5JN