London – Tower Hamlets (Borough of) – Canary Wharf Amazon Fresh

I don’t usually shop on-line using Amazon, but I heard a few weeks ago that they had opened their first Amazon Fresh convenience store outlet in Ealing. They’ve opened a couple more now in London, with this one being in Canary Wharf. There are still only a handful of cities in the world that Amazon have opened in and it’s fair to say that the technology in action here is, well, breathtaking.

The instructions to get in the store were prominently displayed outside. I was with Richard, who is pretty competent at technology, and we used his Amazon account since he actually has one he knows the password to. Customers need to have the Amazon App on their phone to scan their way into the store, but there’s no other registration process needed.

A helpful staff member came out to check if we needed assistance, and he confirmed that the main cardholder can guest others in. There’s a lot of novelty about this whole process, so I suspect that the staff member is doing a lot of explaining. There is a slight catch though, if I picked anything up, it would be free of charge for me and would be charged to Richard’s Amazon account. I didn’t take advantage of this situation on this occasion, although I might in future. It’ll make family shopping interesting though, as if the child picks something up and hides it about their person, then the shopper who took them in will be charged.

This whole shop works by cameras, sensors and technology that I don’t really understand. It knows when you pick things up from the shelf and when you put them back. You walk around the shop, put your purchases in a bag, your pocket or anywhere else, and just leave. The technology knows what you’ve had and unless you’ve got alcohol which needs a ID check, there is no human intervention in the process.

This is undeniably all very clever, and regardless of whether this is good or bad for humanity, I was impressed at the smoothness of the entire operation. Amazon are working in partnership with Morrison’s, so this technology would allow every checkout staff member to be replaced, just having security guards to monitor the entrance to a store. How the technology would work in a larger and busier store, I don’t know, but I assume Amazon will find a way to solve any problems which are encountered.

The store was laid out like any other convenience store would be, all neat and tidy. The prices were either the same as in Morrison’s, and there’s lots of their stock in the store, but they were mostly more expensive. This isn’t the cheapest shop to purchase items in, but it’s also not hugely more expensive so it’s still a viable choice for customers. For convenience, it’s perhaps unbeatable though.

Richard purchased two items and on the first product he waved it about in the air a bit, to ensure the cameras and sensors had picked it up. For the second product, he just shoved it straight in a bag. And it was as simple as that, we then walked out into the darkness of the Canary Wharf maze of buildings.

For the next hour, Richard was convinced that he’d shop-lifted as there was no receipt sent. However, an hour or so later he looked in his Amazon account and the two purchases were there, he’d been charged correctly. He seemed relieved that he wasn’t a shop-lifter, but we were mostly just both in awe at this technology. It has implications for staff numbers, but as a purely technological achievement, this is one of the most impressive things that I’ve seen. I’d be amazed if this doesn’t become the norm for convenience shops (and indeed entire supermarkets) in the future, it’s the end of shop-lifting and the end of queues.