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The future of retail? Amazon’s first till-less “just walk out” store opens in London

Author : Sophia Bell, Assistant Editor, DPA

05 March 2021

Amazon Fresh, a till-less grocery store that looks to revolutionise UK grocery shopping, opens in west London.

Credit: Amazon

Visitors to the 2,500 sq ft store in Ealing, West London, will benefit from its innovative “Just Walk Out” technology, bypassing the need to check out items manually at the till or self-service stations – although employees will be on hand to help with any queries. 

The store stocks a wide range of its new range of own-branded products, as well as additions from other supermarkets such as its partners, Morrisons and Booths. Customers can also use the store to pick up and return their online Amazon orders. 

Having downloaded the Amazon shopping app, shoppers merely need to scan a QR code upon entrance into the store. Items are identified automatically by sophisticated cameras and sensors, as well as artificial intelligence and deep learning software, without any need to scan purchases. The technology can also register if an item is put back on the shelf, should a customer change their mind.

“When you're finished, you're free to walk out," said Matt Birch, Director of Amazon Fresh Stores and an ex-Sainsbury's Executive.

Upon leaving the store, customers are then charged via their Amazon app and subsequently emailed the receipt.

Competitors

Amazon is not the first to test out such technology, but previous attempts from its competitors, such as Sainsbury’s, M&S, and Tesco, relied on customers manually having to scan each individual item on their shopping lists on their smartphones. 

The retail giant’s innovative “Just Walk Out” technology also offers an alternative to the less convenient Amazon’s AI shopping basket, and a seemingly less intrusive option than its palm recognition technology device, Amazon Touch One, which was introduced into two of the company’s Seattle stores last year.

Matt Birch said, “We recognise that UK customers want to shop in a convenient way, so we really think they will appreciate being able to walk in and walk out with the shopping they need.”

Surveillance

Civil liberties campaigners have raised concerns over the development, however. “[It] offers a dystopian, total-surveillance shopping experience,” Silkie Carlo, from Big Brother Watch, told the BBC.

“Amazon’s intense tracking of shoppers will create larger personal data footprints than any other retailer. Customers deserve to know how and by whom these records and analytics could be used.”

However, anticipating such privacy concerns, Amazon stressed the company only collects data that is needed to provide customers with an accurate receipt. “Shoppers can think of this as similar to typical security camera footage,” the company said. Amazon also claims that it does not use facial recognition as part of the technology it employs. 

Job losses

It has also been argued that such technology may lead to job loss, a significant concern as rates of unemployment continue to rise exponentially in the wake of the pandemic. 

Paddy Lillis, General Secretary of retail workers’ union Usdaw, told the Independent: “During the current crisis, retail workers have rightly been applauded as key workers, and now Amazon’s strategy is to cut the number of retail jobs in stores through the launch of shops with no checkouts.”

“Retail workers deserve better,” he added. “We can use new technology for the benefit of shoppers and staff, but this is not the way to do it. All too often retailers are dazzled by new technology, chasing solutions to problems that don’t exist.”

Amazon ambition and expansion

Although Amazon Fresh is the first of its kind in the UK, and indeed Europe, the retail giant has already successively launched 20 similar stores in the US under the name Amazon Go. 

Amazon is continuing to refine the system, however, and recent developments have meant that it can now distinguish between different types of flowers, magazines and greetings cards, which it was previously unable to do. 

The retail giant is also making the technology available to other companies, who will be able to install it in their own stores. 

The company plans to open up more cashier-less stores in the Greater London area, signalling its ambition to continue to expand and make its mark on the UK grocery market. 

Although Amazon is a long way off posing a serious threat to ‘the big four’ British supermarkets (Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Asda and Morrisons), it seems that these traditional retailers will need to up their game if they are to keep pace with Amazon’s technological innovations.


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