We’ve been inside Amazon Fresh, Amazon's first physical grocery store outside the US, on opening day.
Here’s what we took from the visit:
1. The technology helps deliver a seamless shopping experience.
It has to really, as that’s the calling card of the format. But it does deliver a different type of shopping experience that is undeniably slicker than what most of us are used to. Scanning into the store was simple (think boarding pass scanning to board a plane), while on leaving, after a momentary delay, the gates opened and I was let through. The tech that enabled this was all around, but was very much secondary, and didn't interfere with the in-store shopping experience.
Electronic shelf edge labels were in place throughout, supported notably by lots of non-digital signage around how to shop - proving the point that even for Amazon, technology is not always the answer and just a route to it. However, there’s clearly a huge amount of technology behind the scenes in this store, supporting the overall shopping experience.
2. The format emulates and updates existing European convenience.
At 2,500 sq ft (240 sq m) and focused on meeting for now and for later missions, the format looks to be heavily inspired by a Sainsbury’s Local or Albert Heijn to go style format. There feels to be lots of choice and lots of bases covered. What is clear is the focus on food-for-now and food-for-later, for example including a range of meal kits, tray bakes and ready meals, as well as ingredients to make meals from scratch in the food-for-later sections. Interestingly, the in-store environment is adequate rather than amazing, but the fixturing and signage around the store makes it easy to shop.
3. The food-to-go focus is strong.
Firstly, the store communicates a strong food-to-go focus before you even enter: alongside the food-to-go signage and offer, coffee machines are very visible from the street. And an interesting approach with twin coffee machines, one prepares coffee with cows’ semi-skimmed milk, the other with Oatly. And secondly there’s an abundance of products offered in the food-to-go section, including many healthier, fresh-focused, added-value lines as well as more standard fare. There’s also a hot food unit, focused on breakfast at the time of my visit, but including bacon brioche rolls, Cumberland sausage brioche rolls, meat and plant-based breakfast pots and a (non-meat) breakfast burrito. Bakery is an integral component of food-to-go, with two displays, the second being a dedicated organic display from artisan specialist The Flour Station.
4. The tech may lead, but much work has gone into the range development.
The extent of the private label development is impressive. The by Amazon private label permeates across almost all fresh and chilled categories (as well as many ambient categories), supported by a more premium focused sub brand Our Selection. To give an idea of the extent of the by Amazon focus, even sausage rolls and Scotch eggs carry the by Amazon branding.
The influence of Booths, Morrisons and Whole Foods Market can be seen in-store, but only very rarely through their own branded items (we spotted just a handful of Morrisons private label lines across the store). The store is however equally worth visiting for the product innovation as it is for the shopping experience.
5. Buying the good stuff, made easy.
With a strong focus on healthier, better for you options throughout (balanced alongside more indulgent and traditional options) this could be an alternative strapline for the Amazon Fresh store. Indeed it is perhaps the more relevant one to consider when it comes to what the store means for anyone involved in food retail or food-to-go. There’s a big space to play for here, whether online or offline, and the traditional foodservice/ retail divide is becoming much less relevant. This Amazon Fresh concept doesn’t cover all of that space, but it covers a big part of it, and as such could be very much taken as a statement of intent.
This poses a challenge to many across the UK market: it might not be top of Amazon’s global priority list to become a traditional grocery retailer, but with this format it’s positioning itself neatly across several different growth metrics, whether as a store developer in its own right or as a supporting partner for other retailers. And others will look to respond and accelerate their own developments. One way or another, exciting times lie ahead.
For subscribers, we’re taking a more detailed look at the food-to-go and food-for-later range. Get in touch to find out more about how to subscribe or click here.