Thursday, October 21, 2021

Amazon opens its largest, still cashless grocery store

By Katherine Anne Long
From The Seattle Times

Amazon’s long-awaited grocery store Fresh in Bellevue, Washington, opened to crowds on Thursday – and a twist.

The company unveiled in a surprise announcement earlier this week that the store is the first full-size Fresh groceries equipped with cashless technology, powered by a wide range of motion-conscious ceiling cameras and sensors that monitor which items are removed from the shelves. automatically customers’ Amazon accounts when they leave.

Nationwide, Amazon operates more than a dozen Fresh stores, where groceries have a lower price point than the more luxurious Whole Foods chain that Amazon acquired in 2017.

While other Fresh stores have their own share of space-time technology – including smart shopping carts that take their content and send a digital bill to customers – the new location in Bellevue’s Factoria area is the first Fresh store to be equipped with Amazon’s cashless capabilities, which Amazon calls “just running out” of technology. (Amazon Fresh is also the name of the company’s grocery delivery service.)

alexa device
An Alexa device is available to customers on the first day at the first Amazon Fresh in Washington – and the only store with both cashless technology mixed with a cashier settlement option in Bellevue, Washington, on June 17, 2021. (Ken Lambert / Seattle Times / TNS)

“The first time you do that, you feel like you’re getting away with something,” says store owner Celeste Cooper, who moved from her home in Seattle to see the new store on its opening day.

Cooper said she already uses the cashless technology at the Amazon Go convenience store near her home. “It takes a little getting used to, but now I can not stand the rows anywhere else.”

Cooper also said she was “impressed” by the size of the store.

The 25,000-square-foot grocery store, a former Safeway, is Amazon’s largest application of ‘just walk out’ technology. According to Bloomberg, the company has historically struggled to use the technology in formats larger than a convenience store, due to the technical complexity of locating a large number of buyers in a larger space.

But rather than relying solely on cashless cash, the Factoria Fresh store has a hybrid model, according to Amazon spokeswoman Rachel Hass. Customers can choose whether they ‘just want to go out’ or go out to human cashiers – unlike early versions of Amazon Go stores, they do take cash. The Factoria store is Amazon’s first attempt at such a hybrid model.

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Amazon’s extensive groceries have recently undergone changes and expanded during the pandemic. The company said last month that it had abandoned its Amazon Go Grocery brand for larger grocery stores with cashless technology.

cashier check
cashier check
A traditional cashier payment is an option for customers at the first Amazon Fresh in Washington, which also has a cashierless technology option, seen on the opening day in Bellevue, Washington, on June 17, 2021. (Ken Lambert / Seattle Times / TNS )

According to recent media reports, Amazon has introduced its cashless technology in gradually larger formats. Bloomberg reported in April that Amazon was installing ceiling cameras at a Connecticut grocery store under construction, and that a vacant store in Ballard, Washington, would also show a cashless Amazon Fresh location.

Amid concerns from grocery unions that Amazon’s cashless technology could harm groceries, the company sought to boost the rental rate for the Factoria store and a new Fresh grocery store in downtown Seattle. The company announced this year that it plans to hire hundreds of people to man the new stores.

The Factoria store “has hundreds of employees,” Hass said in an email. “This number is similar to our other Amazon Fresh Stores and is comparable to other major groceries.”

Amazon has not yet announced a date for the opening of the Central District store and did not want to say whether the store will also have cashless technology. Although not much of the inside of the store is visible from the sidewalk, a look inside can show that the shelves are close by.

In Washington state, in addition to its two Amazon Fresh grocery stores, Amazon also operates six Amazon Go cashless convenience stores, 11 Whole Foods locations and a handful of other physical stores, including Amazon Books and Amazon 4-star stores.

© 2021 The Seattle Times. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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