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A visit to the most prominent Amazon Fresh in Washington

Welcome to the ultra-technological world of Amazon Fresh. Today we’re visiting the 2nd most prominent Amazon Fresh in the United States of America (700 square meters) in Washington. It’s equipped with “Just Walk Out” technology and allows you to shop without going through the checkout (you’ll still pay, rest assured).

This retail report in the United States follows the one we published on the Lego and Google flagship stores in New York. It is made possible by Olivier Delangre, Amoobi’s CEO, whom we thank here. At the end of this article, you will find his vision on the role of technology in Amazon Fresh stores.

A store packed with technology

The essence of “Just Walk Out” technology allows the consumer to shop and walk out without going through the checkout. Developed in Amazon Go stores, this promise of a seamless customer experience is based on a flurry of technology. Sensors are everywhere, but that doesn’t stop many shelves from being empty.

amazon fresh washington empty shelves

The beauty of this technology is that it even works with bulk produce, like in the fruit department. The Amazon Fresh store in Washington, D.C., has a fruit and vegetable section that is much larger than its counterparts.

amazon fresh washington fruits vegetables

An integration between several Amazon services

In general, Amazon Fresh and all of Amazon’s “physical” sales outlets allow the eponymous website’s offer to be phygitalized. Amazon’s lockers are the cornerstone of the Seattle giant’s strategy to disengage from logistics. Amazon Fresh’s customer service also takes care of package returns, contributing to becoming even less dependent on third-party suppliers for delivery. Eventually, Amazon will become a world of its own, especially if it proceeds with opening medium-sized stores (3000m²), as the Wall Street Journal reported.

amazon lockers at amazon fresh washington

Clear signs

One of the effects of the “Just Walk Out” technology is that all products have to be ideally in place to be recognized. As a result, the store’s shelves are delineated, allowing for “just-in-time” signage. Visually, everything is very consistent, with signs above each department, complemented by screens and fixed information panels. All this gives an impression of remarkable consistency, which results in a beautiful visual result.

fridge at amazon fresh washington

The Amazon brand

sausssage Amazon Fresh WashingtnThe Amazon brand is very present, both on the shelves (365 products from Whole Foods, “Amazon Fresh” branded products) and on the screens. It is fascinating to see how the product assortment of Amazon Fresh is gradually being filled with ” home-made ” products. This is an exciting evolution of Amazon’s marketing mix.

These products are alongside well-known international brands and “imitations” made in the USA of very French products.

Olivier Delangre AmoobiThe opinion of Olivier Delangre, CEO of Amoobi

When you love technology and retail, visiting an Amazon Fresh equipped with Just Walk Out technology is a must. While I’ve had the opportunity to visit several ‘small’ Amazon Go stores in New York, visiting Amazon Fresh in Washington was the next best thing since, at 700sqm, it’s the second-largest store equipped with this technology (in the world since no other solution has been deployed on such a large scale to my knowledge).

The technology, while relatively inconspicuous, impresses me greatly. Hundreds of cameras watch each shelf and point to the floor on either side of each aisle. Each shelf is equipped with sensors (for weight, no doubt). One requests how such an investment can pay for itself because if the cash register is eliminated, there are still several employees to assist and answer questions. If it is not profitable, isn’t Amazon’s objective to learn as much as possible about consumers’ habits? In parallel, Amazon is deploying dozens of Amazon Fresh stores across the United States (reportedly more than 100 already). Wouldn’t automated stores be laboratories to learn via millions of data? What makes or doesn’t make a good Amazon Fresh store? We also know that Amazon used this technique in many markets (having a data-driven learning approach) before going full speed ahead.

Another thing that stands out is the length of time it takes to receive a ticket. On each of my visits, the time between my departure and the ticket’s arrival was always several tens of minutes. This time, it took me an hour to receive the receipt. Also, my ticket had an error with an additional product. Yes, a product that I held in my hand but was clearly put back on the (correct) shelf. Does this expectation suggest that a manual check be performed to confirm the images? If so, what is the actual operational cost of doing so?

One thing is sure; Amazon is moving the lines and signing, with this 700m² store, a technological feat demonstrating its great ambition on the physical and online food market.


Dr. Pierre-Nicolas Schwab is the founder of IntoTheMinds. He specializes in e-commerce, retail and logistics. He is also a research fellow in the marketing department of the Free University of Brussels and acts as a coach for several startups and public organizations. He holds a PhD in Marketing, a MBA in Finance, and a MSc in Chemistry. He can be contacted by email, Linkedin or by phone (+32 486 42 79 42)

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