Curiosity arouses the masses in the cash-free Amazon Fresh Store

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The queue leads through the parking lot to a new Amazon Fresh Store in Bellevue. (GeekWire Photo / Alan Boyle)

BELLEVUE, Washington. – Amazon Fresh’s first full-service grocery store using the retailer’s “Just Walk Out” cash register technology could well become a tourist attraction.

So thought Romy Wada, who started the half-hour drive from Auburn to the store in Bellevue’s Factoria mall today at 4:30 a.m. to be the first to get in.

“I work for a travel company,” Wada explained as he waited in the morning sun. “We deal with Asians, and sometimes they are interested in the supermarkets on Amazon. So I just had to come here to check everything out. “

The crowd grew to more than 200 people in line in the mall parking lot and on the sidewalk when the doors opened at 7 a.m.

There wasn’t exactly a crazy rush: Amazon reps checked with customers while walking up the line to make sure they were ready to checkout.

Amazon operates more than a dozen Amazon Fresh grocery stores across the country, but the Bellevue store is the first to use the shopping monitoring system introduced in the company’s Amazon Go convenience stores.

Video camera systems use computer vision and artificial intelligence to track what Amazon Go customers put in their shopping carts (and what they take out again). Customers scan a code on their smartphone and the bill is automatically charged to their Amazon account when they walk through the exit turnstiles.

Technically, this Amazon Fresh store isn’t completely cash-free, and despite the label, customers don’t exactly “just go out”. In the event that buyers prefer to pay in cash, some cashiers are on duty. And because there is an app-less option, customers have to scan their ID when entering and exiting the store.

At the same time, Amazon has streamlined the cashierless payment system: Instead of needing a special Amazon Go app, the company has integrated an “in-store code” function into its main shopping app, which saves with each of Amazon’s stationary mortars. You can also use Amazon One, the company’s handheld biometric ID app. Or just scan your credit card.

Since the video cameras hanging from the ceiling of the store are programmed to watch what you pick up at well-defined locations, Amazon warns you not to pick up an item for someone else unless you want it on your bill. Also, prices are generally calculated per item, per bag, or per box rather than pounds. (Buying meat or seafood at the counter is the big exception.)

Although Amazon Fresh is a nontraditional grocery store, the traditional grocery tricks are still at play – including direct mail newsletters, coupons, and specials. The opening day specials were almost blatantly aimed at the traditional attractions of Costco, another shopping empire based near Seattle. A sign advertised fried chicken for $ 4.97 (down from $ 4.99 at Costco). Another offered pizza for $ 1.79 apiece (compared to $ 1.99 at Costco).

In general, the prices are comparable to those of other grocery chains. Amazon’s house brands tend to be cheaper, and there are some notable deals on the opening this week. (For example, a 12-pack of Coke for $ 2.69.) And to top it off, you can pick up Amazon Fresh from the roadside, pick up parcels at an in-store Amazon Locker, or return Amazon purchases to customer service.

How much business will this new breed of Amazon Fresh Store take away from more traditional grocery stores, from QFC and Safeway to Costco and Walmart?

The final verdict may have to wait for the novelty to wear off. Amazon says it will analyze the results of its Bellevue experiment and “move on from there” when it comes to deploying the technology in other Amazon Fresh or Whole Foods stores.

But for now, the “Just Walk Out” experience should make tourists happy – even if the “tourists” arrive from downtown Seattle, as Amazon quality assurance manager Yuhendar Balasubramaniyan and his father Narasimman Balasubramaniyan did this morning.

The family bought a couple of bags of vegetables and fruits and a 12-pack of soda just to see what it was like.

“It’s easy,” said Yuhendar. “Your purchases are done in 10 minutes.”

“Quite wonderful,” said his father.

GeekWire editor Alan Boyle lives in Bellevue and has been shopping in the Factoria neighborhood for 30 years.



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