Amazon is set to speed up Jeff Bezos’ march into U.K. food shopping by opening two more grocery stores. The first, with its signature “just walk out” / “just let us surveil you in minute detail” experience, opened under the Amazon Fresh name in Ealing two weeks ago. In the U.S., the stores go by “Amazon Go.”
The second has already opened in Wembley Park in a new-build housing area; the third is set to take over the Mall on Upper Street — the large former tramshed that sits almost in the middle of the main road — according to Hot Dinners. The Islington Gazette reported that its premise license holder, who could not be identified, intended to “sell alcohol at a new ‘grocery and home goods’ store in February.
The stores are small convenience grocery shops by any other measure — Amazon-branded sandwiches, snacks, and pizzas sit alongside common supermarket brands, with modest in-store bakeries, fruit and vegetables, and in one major deviation, Amazon e-readers. The Ealing store opened directly opposite a Morrison’s supermarket, with whom Amazon has a partnership. This is a signal of both the company’s confidence and the stores’ current positioning — they are designed to capture small trips, with the lack of squawking self-checkouts the draw over popping into a traditional supermarket, but they’re not really required to “do well.”
As with leveraging its online grocery delivery through Prime subscriptions earlier in the Covid-19 pandemic, this brand profile push on “Fresh” is a long time coming for Amazon. While it launched the food delivery service in 2016, its limited geographical scope, limited existing customer base, and lo-fi approach to letting people know it even existed then left it a blip on the U.K. grocery landscape. COVID-19 has remapped that terrain — searches for “Amazon grocery” spiked as supermarket delivery slots became the most precious of commodities in late March and through April — but the thing is, Amazon doesn’t especially need to care either way.
Unlike supermarkets, grocers, corner shops, and the restaurant suppliers and actual restaurants that leveraged delivery in the last twelve months, Amazon Fresh had no need to make money in its new marketplace. Online grocery services are more expensive than in-store shopping for all of those competitors. In — nearly — eliminating labour costs at these new stores, it’s playing a similar game.
Much like Jeff Bezos, it’s baldly optimised; more soon on whether or not it actually catches on.