Amazon Fresh London

The store in Ealing is Amazon's first "just walk out" shop outside the US

Make me stay in your store. Please.

I confess it. I am feeling a bit conflicted about my visit to Amazon Fresh's new convenience store in west London the other evening. Let me explain why.

So, the story goes like this: we went at the end of the opening day, and we were all excited in spite of the cold and the coronavirus. The new technology was amazing, and so were all the lights and cameras and sensors, and even the groovy paper bags. And there were no unidentified objects in the bagging area. In fact, there was no bagging area at all, not a single cash desk, so we filled our bags with stuff and then just walked out, grinning like a pair of shoplifters.

We waited for the receipt to pop up in our Amazon account moments later– phew, we’d not been charged for that expensive fizzy drink I’d picked and put back – and then we raced home down dark empty streets, turned on the evening news to watch the report about the opening of the new Amazon Fresh store, and thought, wow, we were just there!

“Just Walk Out”. That’s the slogan Amazon Fresh trades on. They’ve spent millions of dollars and many thousands of hours to develop some very clever technology that ends the nightmare of the supermarket queue. Scan yourself in, fill up your bags, and just walk out.

It’s a fair bet that Amazon Fresh’s one store in Britain is already bringing sleepless nights to the rest of food retail in the UK, very likely right across Europe. They’ll be tossing and turning in their beds and thinking up ways to cut the queues in their own stores, whether they’re convenience stores or not. Cue the fight to see who can get you out of their store faster than anyone else. I’ll put money on it.

Sure, the queue is an inconvenience, but it’s rare nowadays that I find myself in one, what with self-scanning and cashless payment and all that jazz. What I want is someone who’ll talk to me, someone who’ll tell me why this melon is better than that melon, why this expensive piece of cheese is better than the one that’s always on promotion –in fact, here, why don’t you try a piece, good isn’t it! And why this cut of meat is perfect for my stew, and oh, hasn’t the weather been awful recently but, anyway, spring is on its way so keep well, stay safe, and see you again very soon.

The internet brought about the closure of my local bookshop and my local record shop, and almost every other shop I ever shopped in. But they were useless anyway –shopping at them was never fun. The owners were grumpy and unhelpful and rarely made me feel welcome. The internet never did that to me, did it.

But now at his brand-new bookshop the brand-new bookseller wishes me a very good morning and passes me a book he’s just read and recommends me another one I ought to buy too. So now I buy books from him and I buy books online as well. In fact, I buy more books than I’ll ever read in the lifetime I still have left to me.

Food shopping ought to be like that too. So much supermarket shopping is a soulless, joyless experience, even without the prospect of a queue at the end of it. I want to shop at a supermarket that’s filled with wonderful people and wonderful technology that combine to help me buy wonderful products. And I want them to think up ways that make me never ever want to leave their store ever again.

Make it happen. Please.