Posted: 15/04/2021

Bricks-and-mortar Amazon Fresh store ‘not a threat to independent retail’

Bricks-and-mortar Amazon Fresh store ‘not a threat to independent retail’
Amazon’s new physical retail store uses AI to track purchases

Amazon Fresh has opened a futuristic food shop in west London offering deli-style products that customers can choose from the shelves and immediately walk out with.

The online behemoth launched its first UK bricks-and-mortar Amazon Fresh store on Ealing Broadway, offering the public the chance to shop for groceries without the need to use checkouts.

Instead, customers download an app onto their smartphones and scan it as they enter the 225m2 shop, and are automatically billed for any products they leave with.

The concept uses cutting-edge technology such as computer vision, sensor fusion and deep learning to detect when products are taken from or returned to the shelves.

Lines include cured meats, deli meats and cheeses across a range of brands that will be available to shop for 16 hours a day, seven days a week. 

As well as branded products, the Ealing store stocks Amazon’s own range of goods including meat, poultry, fish, dairy, fruit, vegetables, bakery, freshly prepared meals, hot food, grab-and-go snacks and everyday essentials.

Amazon already operates a number of grocery stores in the US and said it had plans to open further outlets in Greater London.

But Charlie Turnbull – founder of online food marketplace Delishops – said independents had little to fear from Amazon’s foray into food shops. 

“I don’t think it will affect the indies that much,” he said. “It is one more competitor in the already price-competitive multiples sector, which has always been chalk to our cheese.  

“Even if they make a go of it, they would have to buy and rebrand one of the big multiples to scale up quickly. Scaling in bricks is a lot slower than scaling in clicks.” 

Turnbull said he thought opening a physical store was a strange move from a company that has made its fortune from internet orders. “It’s a weird step for them to take,” he said. “Everyone else is going online, Amazon is coming offline.  

“Plus it is less convenient than their existing offer of order online and it’s with you within 24 hours without leaving your home.”  

He added that fine food producers were increasingly looking to place their products with Amazon as online shopping grew in popularity during the pandemic.  

“Every producer we are speaking to with an online channel is building sales up,” he said. “For many, it has been a lifeline. They are also looking to get onto Amazon. Up to last March, Amazon was a dirty word to some people. 

“Online universal access is what will make our sector more buoyant – and it will encourage more people to explore their local farm shop or deli.”

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