Amazon Backtracks on Cashierless Stores in London

Amazon Fresh

Since opening its first London store in 2021, Amazon Fresh has eschewed manned checkout stations. Following a model pioneered in the U.S., it has opted to kit each store with its “Just Walk Out” cashierless checkout technology instead.

But recent reports suggest that for the first time, two new branches of Amazon Fresh in London feature manned checkouts alongside Just Walk Out technology. In an email to PYMNTS, an Amazon spokesperson confirmed the news that the company had “indeed opened two new stores in Croydon and Monument that have more ways to pay.”

The change in direction follows a slowdown in the expansion of Amazon’s in-store grocery offering across the country, with the firm walking away from talks for dozens of potential new Amazon Fresh stores across the U.K., as The Telegraph reported back in August.

However, back in 2021, the British press reported that Amazon had its sights on 260 cashierless supermarkets in the U.K. by 2025. Yet at the time of writing, there were only 20 Amazon Fresh locations listed on Google Maps in the U.K., and all except one of them can be found in London.

Only time will tell whether the new mix of self, manned checkout will prove to be more attractive to British shoppers than the tech company’s original autonomous store concept which Amazon billed as “a fast, frictionless way to shop without the hassle of checking out.”

But it appears that novelty and convenience, which were the biggest selling point of the cashierless grocery stores, aren’t enough to win customers — a notion supported by Dutch supermarket chain Jumbo.

First trialed in 2019 and rolled out across the Netherlands throughout 2022, Jumbo’s “Kletskassas” which translates as “chat checkouts” have turned the assumption that every consumer is in a rush to get out of the store as soon as possible on its head.

Instead, the Kletklassas act as a kind of slow lane for those who prefer to have more human interaction during the checkout experience.

Explaining the initiative, Colette Cloosterman-van Eerd, CCO of Jumbo, said the Kletklassas are a way to tackle loneliness. “Our stores are an important meeting place for many people, and we want to play a role in identifying and reducing loneliness,” she said, adding that many of their cashiers “have a warm heart for the initiative” and a genuine interest in connecting with people in-person.

The Winding Road to Greater Automation

While Amazon’s pivot away from fully autonomous stores could be seen as a long way short of Jumbo’s chatty checkouts, it does imply that the company may have hit a wall in terms of how much automation customers are ready for.

In general, the autonomous store concept has been gaining momentum across Europe. From Trigo’s cashierless supermarkets in Germany to Carrefour’s Flash 10/10 store in Paris, the overall trajectory of European retail points to a more automated future, enabled by frictionless checkout tech and artificial intelligence.

But to date, successful implementations have been limited to cities and transport hubs. And due to the large initial investment needed to kit shops out with thousands of scanners and sensors, it seems for now autonomous retail only makes sense in areas with the highest footfall.

Ultimately, the fact that one of the biggest players in the space is now turning away from full autonomy suggests that the Just Walk Out-style shopping is still a long way from becoming mainstream.

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