Amazon might be the one-stop online shop for just about everything (I have some imported Canadian ketchup chips on the way), but there is one area it hopes to do better in: the grocery business. The company picked up quite a bit of grocery retail firepower when it acquired Whole Foods in 2017, but that apparently hasn’t been enough to guarantee the success of its own branded Amazon Fresh stores.
The corporate giant has recently announced layoffs at its brick-and-mortar Amazon Fresh stores, and NPR reports that the brand’s struggles reflect Americans’ shopping habits and preferences. When it comes down to it, the technology-assisted convenience touted by Amazon might not be exactly what everyone wants out of a grocery trip.
A big selling point for Amazon Fresh stores is their use of Just Walk Out technology. And in theory, the idea of being able to stroll into a store, grab what I need, and exit without having to wait for a cashier or deal with a self-checkout kiosk is one that intrigues me. But the method by which this is made possible is more unnerving than appealing.
The Just Walk Out system involves cameras and sensors that track your every move within the store, identifying which items you pick up, which ones you put back, and which ones you exit the store with. If you’re just looking to get some beer, frozen pizza, and ice cream for a wild Friday night in, you might actually prefer paying in cash just to feel less like you’re under the microscope.
Given the choice, I’m more comfortable when my grocery run doesn’t mimic the beginning of the Terminator franchise. (Are the machines listening to me even now?)
There are six major grocery stores within walking distance of my home, and far more within driving distance. Granted, I live in the large, wonderful city of Chicago where such resources are plentiful, but even in areas of the country dominated by Walmart, it’s clear that the grocery sector is where Amazon faces some of its steepest competition.
Big picture: Amazon’s up against massive established retailers like Walmart and Target, both of which got into the grocery game years ahead of Amazon—not to mention the nation’s conglomerates Kroger and Albertsons, which many consumers fear could soon become one massive grocery monopoly.
This is a personal rant of mine, but along with the unsettling (and accurate) feeling of being watched as soon as you set foot in an Amazon Fresh store, there’s also the feeling that the entire layout is, in a word, menacing.
The primary color scheme in the store is all black, and I fucking hate it enough to justify the F-bomb in this sentence. Sure, the products on the shelves are brightly colored to catch your eye, and there are a few bright green accents on the signage around the store, but that pervasive, catacomb-like darkness only makes me want to leave immediately, if not avoid the store altogether. I don’t want to do my grocery shopping in a tomb.
The current layoffs signal that things aren’t going as planned, and NPR says that investors are still skittish on Amazon’s lukewarm foray into groceries, already a low-margin vertical. If Amazon Fresh’s fielding suggestions for how to improve its forecast, may I suggest making the place look slightly less like a murder den?