Amazon this week made a move that will be closely watched by big name supermarket chains in the United Kingdom.

Amazon opened a till-less grocery store in West London, in Ealing to be precise. This is its first “just walk out” shop outside the United States.

The move has been a long time coming. In February 2019 The Grocer had reported that Amazon had secured a central London retail space for its checkout-free Amazon Go food stores concept.

Amazon Go in Seattle. Image credit: Amazon

Walk out tech

Amazon had opened its first US bricks-and-mortar supermarket to the American public in January 2018.

These store featured Amazon-developed technology that eliminates checkout queues.

The shops are branded as ‘Amazon Go’, and it essentially resembles a high-end convenience store.

Amazon’s move into the ‘bricks and mortar’ retail space on this side of the pond will be closely watched due to the new shopping experience it offers customers.

Essentially, the store relies on sensors, cameras and depth-sensors to detect what shoppers are picking up, and bills them automatically. It also utilises software developed using deep-learning artificial-intelligence techniques, but does not reportedly use facial recognition technology.

Users must identify themselves on arrival by scanning a barcode displayed within their account on the standard Amazon Shopping app, which should have a credit card on file.

Users typically enter the shop via a gated turnstile, which scans the app to confirm their identity.

The shop’s monitoring systems then keep track of what the shoppers are picking up and putting back while in the shop, and they’re charged for what they’re still carrying when they walk through the exit.

Amazon Go stores typically sell salads, sandwiches and beverages and freshly prepared meals, as well as fruit and vegetables, staples such as bread and milk, artisanal cheeses, locally made chocolates, and snacks from Whole Foods.

Amazon of course purchased that high-end retailer for $13.7bn (£9.9bn) back in 2017.

Major change?

If this Just Walk Out technology catches on with British shoppers, it could mean major changes for high street shopping comparable to those Amazon has brought in for internet-based retail.

But it should be remembered that just because checkout tills have been removed, it doesn’t mean the shop is unstaffed.

Amazon utilises shop assistants, who stand by the entrance to greet those arriving and to check customers’ ages in the drinks section.

And it should be remembered that Amazon already sells food in the UK via its Amazon Fresh, Amazon Pantry and Amazon Prime Now services.

The Ealing store is said to be 2,500 sq foot (232 sq m) in total – much smaller than a typical British supermarket.

And Amazon already operates seven Whole Foods Market supermarkets in the UK.

There have been persistent rumours that it might try to expand further in the sector by buying one of the larger chains.

A few years ago Amazon reportedly explored a purchase of high-end British supermarket Waitrose, although this was denied by the John Lewis Partnership at the time.

Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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