Grocers compete for your £££ against Amazon Fresh

A new Amazon Fresh Store, which will soon be open at the junction of Chancery Lane and High Holborn.

Amazon launched the original till-free grocery stores. They first started trialling their system in a warehouse in late 2016. It opened to the public in early 2018 in Seattle. How it works is you tap in with the Amazon app when you walk into the store, put away your phone, grab what you want and walk out. That’s it.

Speedier shopping - Amazon's sales pitch.
Speedier shopping – Amazon’s sales pitch.

Why?

Amazon say they’re offering: ”A super fast, friction free way to shop”. These stores are in business districts which are really busy at lunchtimes. There are no queues at a till-free store. Once local workers have got the hang of how it works they’ll be able to pop in at out quickly to pick up their lunch. Saving 5 minutes out of a short lunch break matters.

How to shop in an Amazon Fresh grocery store. Launch the Amazon app on your phone and scan the QR code when you enter the shop. Pick up the shopping you require and put it in your own bag. You don't scan barcodes or have to do anything. Just put stuff in you bag and walk out of the shop.
How to shop in an Amazon Fresh grocery store. Launch the Amazon app on your phone and scan the QR code when you enter the shop. Pick up the shopping you require and put it in your own bag. You don’t scan barcodes or have to do anything. Just put stuff in your bag and walk out of the shop.

Till-free grocery stores in or near the East End of London

Current Amazon Fresh stores in the East End are at Canary Wharf (4 Water St, E14 5GX) and just north of Dalston Junction at 28-31 Kingsland High Street, E8 2JS.

On Wednesday I walked past a soon-to-open Amazon Fresh store at the junction of High Holborn and Chancery Lane (top photo). It’s just across the road from the till-free Tesco GetGo I tested out a month ago.

The entrance to the Tesco till-free shop near Chancery Lane tube. Scan the barcode using the Tesco app on your phone. Pick up what you'd like to buy and walk out. It works the same as Amazon Fresh.
The entrance to the Tesco GetGo till-free shop near Chancery Lane tube. Scan the barcode using the Tesco app on your phone to enter. Pick up what you’d like to buy and walk out. It works the same as Amazon Fresh.
Normal looking shelves inside the Tesco till-free shop at Holborn
Normal looking shelves inside the Tesco GetGo shop near Chancery Lane

Tesco is Britain’s largest grocers who have over a quarter of the market. Helpful staff stood outside the store to guide new shoppers through the process. They told me that this is Tesco’s only till-free store. It’s not easy setting up a fool-proof system of hidden cameras, sensors and little weighing scales under the shelves! It took Amazon 5 years, but it’s just been announced that they plan to open 260 in the UK over the next 3 years.

I’m curious and will try out new things for the hell of it. But most customers will shop where and how it suits them. The Covid-19 pandemic has tipped more people into getting shopping delivered. They can top it up from the local shops, or from shops close to where they work. There’s lots of choice. My household prefers the steam driven Akdeniz Supermarket in the Roman Road. 129 reviewers have given it 4.7 stars out of 5 on Google, (Tesco in Gladstone Place gets 3.1 stars).

With the Sainbury’s Smartshop app you scan items and put them in your own bags as you go round the store. At the end you pay at a dedicated SmartShop checkout. ASDA Scan&Go works the same way. The advantage of using the system in a big ASDA is that there are no queues to pay at the end. Sainsbury’s have rolled their Smartshop system out to lots of stores and are pushing it with lower priced offers you only get if you use the Sainsbury’s Smartshop App. You need a Nectar card to do this. They have free wifi in these stores.

Sainsbury's Smartshop Offers at time of writing
Sainsbury’s Smartshop Offers at time of writing

The Holborn Circus Sainsbury’s I reviewed in June 2019 has closed and signs tell people their nearest shop is across the road in Fetter Lane. But rumour has it that the Holborn Circus Sainsbury’s is being re-fitted so that you can shop as you would do in an Amazon Fresh or Tesco GetGo store.

If you want a bit of fun grab your smartphone and a shopping bag and head off down the Central Line to Chancery Lane. At the moment Tesco is the only futuristic store open down there. It’s a lot smarter than the depressing one in Gladstone Place, Bow. Amazon and Sainsbury’s will soon be open near Chancery Lane. You could also try out the Amazon Fresh store at Canary Wharf which opened in May.

Amazon Fresh grocery at Dalston Junction
Amazon Fresh grocery store at Dalston Junction

Whilst on a train to photograph Amazon Fresh at Dalston, I decided to download the Amazon app and give it a try. You launch the app at the entrance, click on the shopping cart at the bottom, then Fresh Code at the top. That’s like your “tube pass” to enter the shop.

Entrance to Amazon Fresh at Dalston Junction
Entrance to Amazon Fresh at Dalston Junction
Just Walk Out Shopping bag
“Just Walk Out Shopping” does sum up the experience. When I got the bill a bit later it was correct. The bagged lettuce was very fresh, better than elsewhere.

Even if these stores are not for you they will have a positive effect. They’ll force the existing chains to smarten up their act – and put more staff on the checkouts!

Alan Tucker, Bow