Home / Features / Why Amazon Fresh’s ‘just walk out’ tech is the shopping experience we all need

Why Amazon Fresh’s ‘just walk out’ tech is the shopping experience we all need

The only shop where you can just walk out and not get tackled by security.

When you go to buy something online, where do you visit first? 9 out of 10 you probably just said Amazon. The Silicon Valley behemoth has spread to all corners of the world, and is one of the most convenient (and best) ways to shop. Be it groceries, clothes, the latest gadgets, or on-demand movies, Amazon has got you covered. And now, brick-and-mortar Amazon stores have got your in-person shopping covered too, with Amazon Fresh.

Also known as Amazon Go in the US, Amazon Fresh is the firm’s range of physical convenience stores. Much like a Co-Op or Tesco Express to us Brits, or a 7 Eleven for Americans, these shops focus on giving you the essentials. But there’s a twist. Rather than queuing up to pay and reinforcing British stereotypes, you can just walk out. And nobody’s going to chase you down, either.

The last major innovation to in-person shopping was contactless payments, but that’s old news now. These Amazon Fresh stores are entirely checkout-less, allowing you to, quite literally, just walk out. Packed with all sorts of clever tech, we’re going inside one of the stores to find out how they work, and if they’re any good.

How do Amazon Fresh Stores work?

When you walk into an Amazon Fresh store, things couldn’t be simpler. Just fire up the Amazon app on your phone, head to the basket, and hit Fresh Code just under the search bar at the top. You’ll then see a QR code pop up on your display. Scan this at the turnstiles, just like you’d scan a boarding pass at the airport.

The gates will open up for you, and that’s it. You’re in! You’ll also find a staff member at the doors to help you if you get stuck. Once you’re through the gates, you can just walk through the shop like you would any other. Simple, right? But the tech on the inside is another story.

In order to provide the “just walk out” experience, Amazon needs to know what you’re purchasing and when you leave. It sounds simple, but it’s fairly complicated in reality.

To track where you are, Amazon has installed an array of hundreds of cameras into each Fresh store. They follow you around the shop, but there’s no facial recognition involved. Everything gets processed in store or on the app, and all data gets deleted within 30 days. The smart shop just needs to know where you are.

These same cameras are watching what you pick up and put back, too, so Amazon knows exactly what you buy. There aren’t any giant barcodes on products for the cameras to spot. Rather, they use AI to identify items and where they are in the store to confirm if that’s correct. You wouldn’t be picking up toothpaste in the sandwich isle, would you?

In addition to the cameras, each shelf includes a weight sensor. The sensor detects when you pick an item up, and can work out what it is based on the weight. The AI combines this data with the rest to really make sure it’s got the right products.

And when you’re ready to leave? Head back to the gates, which swing open ready for your departure, like your own personal doorman. There’s a station for you to pack your bags, and for cutlery if you purchased any food items in store. Amazon will automatically charge your preferred card as you exit, and you can carry about your day as usual. Head into your inbox or the app for a receipt.

A selection fit for the Queen: What can you find inside an Amazon Fresh?

As a fairly small convenience store, you probably wouldn’t be able to do your weekly shopping in an Amazon Fresh. But you could come close. Each store carries household essentials, toiletries, cupboard foods, fresh foods, and more. Anything you’d expect to pick up from your corner shop, you can expect to find here, too.

Among Amazon’s fresh selection, there are pastries, drinks, sandwiches, sushi, and more. You’ll even find a coffee machine nearby for hot drinks (better than the Costa machines lurking in most Tesco Express stores , don’t worry), kitted out with Amazon branded coffee cups.

At the back of the store, there’s even a handy Amazon returns point. Like the rest of the store, you won’t need to interact with anyone. Using the app (spot the trend?), you can drop off your Amazon items for an easy return. And maybe pick up a cheeky croissant on the way out.

Can they be tricked?

Amazon’s so sure that the tech can’t be beaten, there’s not even an option to add products it missed in the app. You can remove items you didn’t purchase, but not add ones you did. That sounds like a challenge to us! Summoning my inner Indiana Jones, I went around the Amazon Fresh store to see what I could nick.

In true Raiders of the Lost Ark fashion, I tried the old switcheroo trick with two similar bottles of water to see if the weight sensors could be fooled. Alas, Amazon Fresh correctly worked out which bottle I took in the end.

Similar tests proved just about as effective – as in not at all. Throwing an item into the Amazon-branded bag as fast as possible didn’t fool the cameras. Picking something up and putting it back didn’t either. Nor did putting it back in the wrong place (which I corrected at the end because, those people).

The few Amazon Fresh staff must get sick of people trying this, but it’s great fun. Either the smart store doesn’t fool easy, or I’m a rubbish wannabe thief. A little of both is probably most likely.

The future is here: Is Amazon Fresh any good?

Clearly, Amazon Fresh offers a frictionless, convenient way to shop. Not needing to queue to pay is so much quicker, it’ll leave you wanting to just do your essential shops at Amazon Fresh stores. The lack of human interaction can only be a good thing in this digital, post-pandemic age. And, the system seems foolproof. What’s not to love?

Currently, there are 17 UK stores spread out across central London. We’re hoping Amazon opens a few more up further afield, but the company hasn’t announced any new locations yet. In perhaps a world’s-first supermarket rating, Amazon Fresh deserves a full five stars.

If you’re anything like us, you spend far too much time (and money) on Amazon. The online retailer took over internet shopping because it was so convenient, and everyone followed suit. Now that there’s a physical shop to go to as well… we’re going to have our bank on the line thinking our cards have been cloned. It’s the shopping experience we want need deserve, and it’s not too far away.

This cashier-less shopping future is also being tackled by Aldi and Tesco. Both supermarket giants have opened up their own “just walk out” stores here in the UK. They’re still in trial phases, so not quite as advanced as Amazon’s offering. But it just goes to show how close this reality is.

Amazon Fresh UK locations

  •  Holborn Chancery Lane
  •  Euston
  •  Angel
  •  Aldgate East
  •  Chalk Farm
  •  Dalston
  •  White City
  •  Wandsworth
  •  Canary Wharf
  •  East Sheen
  •  Wembley Park
  •  Ealing
  •  Richmond
  •  Hounslow
  •  Chingford
  •  Kensington
  •  Southwark