Amazon’s innovative ‘no checkout required’ supermarket leaves our reporter feeling uneasy.

Our travel-hungry Japanese reporter Ikuna Kamezawa loves jet-setting around Europe, and on a recent trip to London she came across a store with a familiar looking logo.

It was a branch of Amazon Fresh, Amazon’s unmanned supermarket which currently only has stores in the US (where it is known as Amazon Go) and the UK. The store made news around the world when it first opened back in 2020 thanks to its unique shopping system; after scanning a special QR code upon entering, simply take the items you want and walk out of the shop. Shoppers then get charged for any items they took via their Amazon account after they’ve left the store; just grab your items and go.

▼ Most stores don’t need instructions on how to get in, but Amazon Fresh isn’t ‘most stores’.

The store Ikuna had come across was close to the Angel underground station in Islington, and even before she’d entered the store she was pretty impressed with how shiny and new everything looked.

In order to enter the store, you need to scan a special QR code you access through an Amazon app on your cellphone. It seemed simple enough, but even so, for first timers the process might be a little intimidating; luckily, a member of staff was on-hand nearby to help anyone who was having trouble.

Once Ikuna had scanned her QR code, she was inside the store, which was surprisingly larger than she’d expected. From the outside, the shop had seemed roughly the size of a convenience store, but looking around it seemed big enough to stock almost all everyday essentials. The store is open from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m., making it super convenient!

Aside from the member of staff at the entrance to help customers as they enter the shop there was only one other member of staff, manning the pick up and returns counter.

There are no baskets. Instead, shoppers can use these free paper bags to put their items in directly as they walk around the store.

There was an nice selection of fruit and vegetables…

…and the meat and cheese section was impressive too. There was even sushi, much to Ikuna’s delight!

Many of the products on sale in the store were Amazon’s own brand, and the prices were pretty decent. This Lamb Mazemen broth-less ramen was just £4 (around 650 yen, or US$4.50). Considering how much food costs in London, it was very reasonable!

Ikuna had assumed that her shopping would be somehow scanned and calculated using the bar codes on the labels, but all products in the bakery section were unwrapped and had no labels. Instead, Amazon Fresh tracks what customers take from the shelves using special cameras and sensors.

Upon learning this, Ikuna felt a little nervous. How well could the sensors track what she was taking if there were no bar code on it? If there was some sort of mechanical error it could be a problem, so she made a note of how much she was spending, all whilst praying there wasn’t a burly police officer waiting to arrest her outside.

Once Ikuna had settled on what she wanted to buy — a baguette, a bunch of bananas and a soft drink — she made her way to the exit…

… and came across an unmanned coffee dispenser on the way. Well, it would be rude not to try it out!

Cafe latte in hand, Ikuna made her way to the exit. It was finally time for her to experience Amazon Fresh’s ‘just walk out’ system. Would she really be allowed to leave this store without going through a single checkout till? Or would she be arrested on the spot for attempted shoplifting?

She approached the exit turnstile with baited breath…

… and it swung open with a flourish, allowing Ikuna to leave!

Soon after Ikuna left the store she was sent an e-mail receipt listing what she’d bought, how much it had cost… it even listed how long she’d been in the store for. Thankfully, the sensor system had worked fine and had even managed to track Ikuna’s baguette accurately.

But while the tracking technology was certainly impressive, Ikuna couldn’t help but feel that she’d have been more at ease if there had been a checkout till like a regular supermarket. She still didn’t fully trust the sensors, and had constantly been making mental notes of how much her items cost to avoid any chance of being accidentally overcharged. If it were a normal, manned supermarket with someone at the checkout tills, being overcharged would be an easy problem to resolve, but how would you go about it when there’s no cashier? Just thinking about what a hassle it might be gave Ikuna a headache.

But more than anything, Ikuna couldn’t shake the uneasy feeling that this wasn’t the right way to shop. Putting things in a bag and leaving without paying anyone for them felt like shoplifting to Ikuna, despite the fact that her Amazon account was charged moments after she left the store.

So in the end, Ikuna concluded that, while the experience was interesting, she’d rather queue at a normal checkout with a cashier than feel this much stress. She reckons a lot of Japanese people will feel this way too, and maybe the idea of ‘just walk out’ shopping will take a long time to catch on in Japan.

Maybe this unmanned Family Mart convenience store, or this unmanned clothes shop would be more up Ikuna’s alley. There aren’t any cashiers in the store, but you can at least leave safe in the knowledge that you’ve paid!

Photos © SoraNews24
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