Amazon Fresh Stores Aim to Reinvent Shopping Experiences

Amazon Fresh Stores have a very different look from Whole Foods, which the e-commerce giant purchased in 2017. The Fresh Store, which just opened its second outpost last week in Irvine, California, looks like a small warehouse, with Dash Carts offering integrated touchscreens and cameras. The Fresh Store is designed to be as easy as possible to retrofit in an existing retailer space and the look is spartan and appears to be optimized for robots. Prepared foods are available but there’s no place to sit and eat them.

VentureBeat reports that softening the environment are “a cadre of friendly greeters.” Throughout the store are Alexa terminals to answer questions about item locations, measurement unit conversions and even wine pairings.

When the VB reviewer was at the store, some of the Alexa terminals had connectivity issues. He notes that, “Alexa could help reduce the need for greeters as customers become familiar with the technology, and shelving recalibrations could reduce the need for such frequent stock replenishment.” One of the most attractive features of Amazon Fresh is “reasonable pricing” compared to the higher cost Whole Foods.

For shoppers who choose to use a Dash Cart (pictured above), a three-minute tutorial explains “how to link your cart to your Amazon app with a QR code, scan packaged items by dropping them into one of two included paper bags, and add produce items by inputting four-digit PLU codes into the cart’s tablet screen.” Your Amazon account should be automatically charged for what’s been placed in it.

The execution, says the reviewer, “leaves a lot to be desired … each cart is limited to two bags, which restricts your ability to complete a full shopping trip, and limits Amazon’s maximum take per shopper.” The reviewer also had to go through a manual checkout line “because our cart’s integrated code scanner couldn’t recognize an Amazon coupon.”

He adds that, although Amazon encourages Dash Cart users to “digitally manage their shopping lists with the cart and browse current in-store specials using their phones,” it’s a problem because “the cart’s integrated shopping list management software is extremely limited, and the idea of asking users to check not just one but two touchscreens while they’re shopping is just straight-out crazy.”

The store gave out coupons to apologize for technical issues, as well as “free cans of sparkling water and refrigerator magnets to everyone exiting the store” on two occasions. The reviewer also gave a thumbs up to the “Customer Service, Returns & Pick Up” area, located at the rear of the store, where shoppers can “pick up items from Amazon lockers and drop off Amazon returns.”

“At this stage, it would be hard to describe Amazon Fresh as the guaranteed future of brick-and-mortar retailing,” concludes the reviewer. “The experience currently feels closer to a public beta test than a fully formed and polished business. We didn’t see anyone leaving the store angry … Only Amazon knows whether such a mixed but positive impression counts as ‘mission accomplished’.”