London’s High Holborn district has become a hub for cashierless supermarkets, with Amazon Fresh unveiling its latest “Just Walk Out” store on November 24, with Tesco’s first checkout-free GetGo store sitting just 120 yards down the road.
The ecommerce and grocery giants claim to offer customers a hassle-free, seamless shopping experience; free from long queues and clattering trolleys.
But despite deploying similar technology and being in such close proximity, how do Holborn’s Amazon Fresh and Tesco GetGo stores differ? And what do they have to offer customers? Charged Retail visited the stores to find out.
Entering the store
Both stores allow shoppers to check in at the entrance with either the Amazon or Tesco.com app, select the products they want and leave without scanning their purchases or paying for them at a till.
Customers can head straight in without having to interact with a member of staff, although colleagues are on site to handle any queries.
Cameras and shelf sensors monitor the individual items selected by customers and they receive a bill upon exiting.
The stores are well-organised, well-stocked and feel strangely calm without the buzz of beeping scanners.
Hundreds of cameras dangle from the ceilings in both stores. The heavy surveillance makes shoplifting next to impossible, while creating a slightly dystopian atmosphere. The cameras in the Amazon Fresh store were more discreet and enmeshed in the lighting features, while Tesco’s cameras were larger and flickered constantly.
How do the products compare?
In terms of product selection, Amazon Fresh offers a variety of familiar branded groceries, as well as some Morrisons items and its own “by amazon” range.
The store also features “by amazon” meal deals, two Amazon–branded coffee machines and a fresh bakery and hot food section. Amazon Fresh merchandise such as flasks and water bottles are available in the non-food aisle, with other household goods.
An Amazon Hub is also available for customers wanting to pick up and return items they have purchased online. Placards can be taken to the Hub and exchanged for medical items such as paracetamol, which are restricted to two per person.
Do the stores look different?
The Amazon logo and branding are visible and consistent around the store, with digital signage advertising the “by amazon” range, while branded shopping bags hang from the wall.
Comparably, Tesco’s GetGo store is much larger, offering more variety in terms of groceries and household items. The aisles are wider and more spacious, with better access for wheelchair users.
The supermarket stocks the full range of products expected at a standard Tesco Express store, including an extensive food-to-go range, as well as chilled, frozen, and reduced-to-clear products.
If it weren’t for the barriers upon entrance and cameras hanging from the wall, it could be mistaken for any other Tesco Express. Shoppers are surrounded by the familiar Tesco branding, and it simply feels as if the supermarket has undergone an upgrade.
Both stores had helpful staff upon entrance who explained the system to customers and walked them through the process.
However, as Tesco’s exterior gives the appearance of a regular store, many customers walked in and grumbled when told they must download the app, causing a backlog of confused shoppers at the door. Customers at the Amazon Fresh store seemed more aware of what they were getting themselves into.
Unless shopping for age–restricted items, it is easy to have no interaction with staff members at either store. Once shoppers enter Tesco’s age–restricted section, they cannot re-enter the main store and must exit. This can feel jarring and inconvenient and is not an issue in Amazon Fresh.
In terms of environmental credentials, Amazon’s chilled food is stored in large open fridge displays, while Tesco has closed fridges.
A recent study by the Environmental Investigation Agency revealed that if the top five British supermarkets had closed fridges, they could cut energy bills by 33 per cent and reduce the country’s total energy usage by 1 per cent.
“It’s such a simple change,” Glamorgan environmental campaigner Joe Cooke told the BBC.
“It could save so much energy, that’s going to be so important for us as we try to decarbonise and make the changes to become a greener country.”
So it’s clear that Amazon Fresh has some catching up to do in reducing its environmental impact.
Speed and autonomous effectiveness
But, how do the two stores fare with crucial timings?
Having left Amazon Fresh at 10.27, the receipt arrived via email at 13.03. This is a considerable gap and could cause frustration, as the customer won’t know how much they have spent immediately after leaving. The receipt also notifies shoppers how long they have spent in–store, but for a full itemised breakdown, they are redirected to the Amazon website.
Tesco’s receipt arrived just under an hour after leaving the store, with a full item breakdown within the email – a quicker and more efficient system. However, Amazon did give the option to request item refunds, an advantage for the more cautious shopper.
Once customers can overcome the unnatural feeling of “just walking out”, the supermarkets can offer a hassle-free, efficient experience, particularly for those working in urban centres like Holborn.
While both stores represent the new normal, Amazon Fresh is a new, albeit expanding, endeavour from the tech giant and the concept of “by amazon” groceries will take some getting used to. However, despite the in-store technology, Tesco’s GetGo store feels far more familiar in terms of the overall user experience.