Amazon, deepening its activities in the grocery sector, opens the latest edition of its Fresh store in Westmont on Thursday. With a design that allows customers to skip a checkout line, the store is all about your convenience, the company’s tracking ability, and its power to operate all parts of its retail megalopolis.
With an Amazon account linked to a credit card, you can “Just Walk Out” with your stuff, to use whatever name the business applies to the feature. It’s a more sophisticated version of the technology Amazon has used in its other grocery stores that depend on specially equipped shopping carts to record purchases.
In Westmont, the carts have no particular role. Above shoppers’ heads is an electronic lattice of hanging cameras and sensors that document every purchase. Employees said the systems have been rigorously tested and you shouldn’t mind if you pick up an item and put it back.
Customers can also shop the old fashioned way and visit the checkout line. The option would be required for anyone who does not register the visit with an Amazon account. You enter the store either with a QR code obtained on the Amazon app or through a door marked “traditional purchases”.
“We have low prices. We have a great choice. We have national brands. We have our own brands. We have fresh food. I think where we really play is convenience, ”said Amazon spokeswoman Laura Hayes.
The store at 6188 S. Cass Ave. at Westmont is the region’s first Amazon Fresh with Just Walk Out technology and the nation’s largest store, said Hayes. At around 35,000 square feet, it’s smaller than the larger Jewel or Mariano’s, but large enough for an organized selection of all categories of groceries.
It includes local produce like Oberweis milk and draws on popular private label items from Amazon’s Whole Foods chain.
Bill Bishop, co-founder of food industry consulting firm Brick Meets Click, said Amazon is using its ubiquity in retail and data collection to its advantage. “If they get this perfectly correct product selection, you will never know what was not included there,” he said.
Another Fresh store with the enhanced non-payment feature is slated to open next week at 6939 Dempster St. in Morton Grove. The region previously had four Amazon Fresh stores, all located in the suburbs. Hayes said more locations are planned in Naperville and North Riverside.
Lionel Triplett, Westmont location manager, said the store offers a “unique and different” experience from traditional grocers and will help shoppers new to the concept. The store will be a hub for orders that will be delivered directly to homes in the western suburbs. Grocery deliveries are free with an Amazon Prime membership, as employees are happy to point out.
Each Fresh site has several hundred employees, but Amazon executives declined to give an exact number.
The cashless option, Triplett said, allows workers to be assigned to other duties, such as keeping aisles well stocked and tidy.
Knowing that your every move is being watched can make some people nervous. But executives said people would appreciate the savings in time and aggravation.
“I think when you see how easy it is – you scan in and out, you don’t have to stand in line and yet we have employees all over the place to help you with anything. So I hope they find it a much easier and more enjoyable experience, ”said Martha Marinelli, District Director.
Plus, the cross-marketing opportunities are huge. In one section of the store is a full-service station for all other Amazon needs, including shipping, pickups, and returns. One Shelf features a selection of highly rated non-food items from Amazon’s Infinite Catalog, in case you want a blender on the way out.
The store has Alexa stations to ask which wine goes with your dinner or which aisle has toothpaste. The prices on the shelves are digital thanks to the e-ink technology that Amazon removed from its Kindle.
Bishop said Amazon’s improved non-payment system “is a very big competitive advantage.” He criticizes the previous version which relies on what the company calls Dash Carts, saying they have limited capacity and often perform poorly.
“I think they want to be really fat in the grocery store,” he said.
Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this story stated that data on buyer behavior was anonymized. This information from Amazon was incorrect.