Thoughts — 09 Mar 2021
By Craig Lawrie

Amazon offers a fresh perspective on bricks & mortar CX

by Craig Lawrie

“Town centre gets new supermarket” is hardly a headline that attracts much national attention, especially during a pandemic where grocery stores are one of the few retailers legally allowed to open. But that’s exactly what has happened this week, as retail behemoth Amazon, opened the doors to its new “Amazon Fresh” supermarket in Ealing, London.

Amazon brand name aside, why is this creating such a stir? Like “Amazon Go” in the States, “Amazon Fresh” promises to remove the frictions in the everyday supermarket experience to create an in-store CX comparable with the ease, efficiency and personalisation that we all associate Amazon with online. But unlike the Amazon website, there isn’t even a checkout. Using pioneering “Just Walk Out” technology, AI sensors and in store cameras track selected items automatically, billing each customer via their Amazon smartphone app when they leave. The sheer quantity of cameras and depth sensors in the store means that the technology is smart enough to distinguish between different choices of similar items (such as birthday cards) and can also detect when items have been put back on the shelf.  Amazon is so confident in the power of its technology, it does not ask customers to check that they have been correctly charged for their shopping.

We all know that being stuck in a checkout queue – and the hassle of having to furiously pack items before they are all scanned are some of life’s irritants. But can a supermarket experience without a checkout really be the CX nirvana Amazon expects it to be? With more than 10,000 branded items, its own “By Amazon” range, long hours as well as its promise to serve hot meals to go from 0800-2300, the retail king is certainly showing that it understands the weekly, convenience shopper. Yet, its Ealing store is much smaller than many other supermarkets and many of the prime locations it should be aiming for have been snapped up by better established competitors. Given that convenience determines supermarket brand of choice, this presents a challenge. And even though Amazon promises that its cameras are not designed to recognise faces, a business that is operated by cameras will stoke privacy fears.

Perhaps the real CX benefit is the one that isn’t getting the most attention: Amazon website shoppers can visit Amazon Fresh and return any Amazon website purchase with no need to repack, relabel or repost. Not only does this take away much of the frustration of returning goods online, it also presents a shrewd business opportunity for Amazon: it drives footfall in to the store, irrespective as to whether it is the closest supermarket to hand. And extra footfall means extra sales.

A new challenger in the UK’s already saturated grocery sector or a quirky gimmick that is only used to return unloved Amazon purchases? Time will tell just how Fresh Amazon’s new concept really is.