Amazon Fresh: Is an Automated Supermarket around the Corner?


On 4 March, Amazon infiltrated the physical UK market place, opening the first of their ‘Amazon Fresh’ supermarkets in West London.

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Image by Atomic Taco

By Martha Hobson

Though on the surface this does not seem like an innovation for Amazon worldwide, it is the first of Amazon’s physical shops outside of the US and could be a watershed moment. In 2018, an ‘Amazon Go’ store opened in Seattle. There are now 28 of these throughout the US, selling prepared foods, alcohol, groceries. In 2017, Amazon bought Whole Foods helping the e-commerce giant build a firmer foundation for its future stores.

The premise is a ‘till-less’, ‘queue-less’, ‘convenient’ way of shopping, where you scan a QR code on entrance, fill up your bag, and leave. Hidden cameras and sensors track everything you take off the shelf and add it to your Amazon account, so that you can leave straight after shopping. Around a third of the products are Amazon own-brand; they have sourced their own groceries such as eggs and milk from UK suppliers. Customers can fill their trolleys with meal deals, goods from the bakery, or use coffee machines that serve Oatly milks. There is even a booth to pick up Amazon orders.

It is likely that this is the first of many Amazon shops, and it’s important to consider the possible repercussions and reshaping of how shopping will look in the future. Is this a glimpse of the future? Or is this where we draw the line?

There are stories of Brits excited by the “magic” of Amazon Fresh, describing the thrill of walking out ‘without paying’. However, it is also an exclusive business, especially for one elderly man who reportedly was told at the door he had to download an app in order to get a sandwich, so swore profanities and walked to the nearest Sainsburys.

The Amazon machine has benefited greatly from Covid-19, reaping huge profits at a time where most businesses are really struggling and has reaped huge profits at a time where most businesses are really struggling. Amazon doubled its net profit year over year to $5.2 billion by July 2020 with Amazon Fresh being a possible extension of this success. At a time where workers are vulnerable, and interaction needs to be limited, the concept of a shop where workers are practically obsolete is appealing.

Economists and workers alike are worrying and wondering about what the future of work looks like, especially with the increasing use of technology and artificial intelligence. Amazon Fresh is a daunting new reality. However, it is hard to know whether this way of shopping could ever become the new normal. Amazon is offering to sell its ‘Just Walk Out’ technology to other companies, so perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised if we start seeing Morrisons or Tesco sporting the same technology soon.

Amazon Fresh also means a more intense and accurate tracking of shoppers, with them creating larger personal data footprints than any other retailer. Amazon has said it will only associate info collected in-store with a customer’s Amazon account for up to 30 days. However, it is important to be aware of how data can be used and what for.

Amazon Fresh stores provide an even more technology-oriented alternative to the future of work and retail, with Amazon slowly monopolising global commerce. It has dominated online shopping and may well begin to dominate our highstreets now too.