Amazon has opened its first “just walk out” grocery store in the UK where shoppers can pick up their goods and leave without having to visit a till. The Amazon Fresh store in Ealing, west London, is a “contactless” shop available to anyone signed up to Amazon and with the app on their phone.

Checking out the checkout-less store

Lockdown travel restrictions have prevented me from trying out the UK’s first “just walk out” grocery store for myself so Peter Cornforth (Answer Pay’s Commercial Director) visited the store for me and this is how he got on……

Friction free checkout – does it live up to the hype?

Perhaps facing pressure from omnichannel click and collect offerings from the likes of John Lewis, Amazon has been exploring omnichannel for some time.  The start of this can perhaps be seen in the lockers at petrol stations, supermarkets or Doddle outlets making it more convenient to receive your online ordered goods in a non lockdown world. 

They’ve also trialled bluetooth proximity based payments in the past along the lines of the better publicised PayPal beacon. However now a full store experience is now here promising friction free checkout – does it live up to the hype?

My first attempt I have to admit was a bit of a disaster as being one of the few stores actually open in Ealing during the lockdown it was proving extremely popular with queues of 20+ people outside the store. 

This is despite there being a far bigger Morrisons (who supply the produce for Amazon Fresh) opposite with no queue. 

What we could see though was that there were plenty of Amazon staff in dazzling green attire available to help guide hoi polloi on their new shopping experience.

Not daunted my wife and I revisited the store the next day post school run and found our way clear. 

Instructions were displayed on sign posts before going in, detailing how to obtain your Amazon Fresh QR code that is needed for store entry. 

As this was the first time it did take a bit of fiddling to find the right link but clearly as this becomes a habit it really is only 4 button clicks (including getting to the app) so it will be much easier on subsequent trips. 

Plus for those who are struggling there are plenty of staff around to assist.

Once you have your QR code you enter the store and your progress is barred by a waist high glass barrier much like you get in a posh office. 

The scanner is clearly visible and worked really well in reading the barcode.  I have experienced issues with scanners like these in the past whilst trying to read mobile boarding tickets at the airport so when it worked the first time it was a pleasant surprise. 

A slight quirk though was that each person who goes in has to have a barcode which we weren’t prepared for but thankfully I could use my barcode to let my wife in first before using it again to let myself in.  

Once inside it looked pretty much like your average Tesco Metro/Sainsbury’s local with about the same range of produce. 

The main difference perhaps being a counter so that you could pick up/return your online Amazon deliveries. 

Shopping was a little weird as we did feel uncomfortable putting our shopping from the shelves directly into our backpacks so much so that despite the clear signage we did confirm with an assistant that it was OK.  

No scanning, no cards and no faff

Having loaded up our bags we headed for the exit where there is another glass gate that you simply walkthrough. 

This time my wife and I could go through the gate together with bags full. No scanning, no cards and no faff.  I received a notification of my receipt about 30 minutes later and it was 100% accurate. 

It had worked.

Unlearning learned behaviour

It is hard to make a hard and fast judgement on the experience as there is so much learned behaviour that needs to be unlearned for this to be comfortable. 

I do think that they have massively decreased the friction at checkout but this is at the expense of increasing friction on entering the store.  I for example wouldn’t hesitate to grab a few essentials if I were on my own.  However encumbered with children, scooters and associated gear I’d probably give it a miss.  Definite progress though and it will be interesting to see how they improve the process. 

Thank you to Peter Cornforth for trying out the UK’s first Amazon Store and sharing his experience. If you’d like to submit a guest blog to Northey Point (and the Payments:Unpacked newsletter) email: blog@northeypoint.com