AmazonGo? More Like AmazonNo

SEATTLE—I really wanted this to be amazing, and I suppose if you’re looking for a bag of chips, Amazon’s cashier-less concept store AmazonGo is all that and a bag of chips.

But, from a produce perspective, this concept is not ready for expansion.

This is the first of Amazon’s forays into this technology, and it opened in January, to much fanfare. They have modest expansion plans into cities like Chicago, and perhaps even an outrageous 3,000 stores, as this Bloomberg article suggests.

I stopped by during a day of store visits in Seattle in October. It was about lunch time, and I expected crowds. I had already downloaded the app and enabled mobile payments, so I scanned and went right in.

My first impression was that it looked like a photography studio from my college days. The tall, black ceilings had mounts for hundreds of cameras to track customer and product interaction. If you pick something up, the cameras are watching to see if you put it in a bag or back on the shelf, so the system can charge you accordingly.

My second impression was a massive letdown.

Where was all the produce? The “produce department” was about five feet wide with five shelves, with a second five-foot section of meal kits. That’s not unusual, considering the store’s convenience format and urban setting.

The problem was that there were so few SKUs!

I saw:

• Chunked watermelon

• Chunked pineapple

• Chunked cantaloupe

• Packaged salad

• Bagged baby peeled carrots

• Sliced apples

• A stir fry kit

• Zucchini noodles

• A veggie tray (like you’d bring to a meeting)

• A fruit tray

• Ready-to-eat washed and prepared berries

• Clamshell raspberries (just one in the whole store)

Other areas of the store offered ready-to-eat salads, veggies and dip and a fruit dip. That was pretty much it. Altogether, I estimate there were about 20 items I’d consider “fresh produce.”

The quality of some of these items wasn’t much to write home about, either. The watermelon looked old and mushy, and the stir fry looked past its prime. Most of the fresh-cut items were under the Whole Foods brand.

I have so many questions.

Is this the best we can do?

Or is the best effort Amazon is putting in to produce because the turns and demand aren’t there in this concept?

Why, oh why, do they have zucchini noodles?!

Are those really selling in this location? Seems like a hip and trendy item to put on the shelf.

I hear the meal kits have justified taking up so much shelf space, however. According to Cathy Burns, CEO of the Newark, Del.-based Produce Marketing Association, meal kits are one of AmazonGo’s top sellers, along with the chicken salad sandwich.

I didn’t try the chicken salad sandwich, and kind of wish I had, just to see what all the fuss is about.

So that’s my first impression of AmazonGo.

I’d love to catch another in a different market to see what the produce selection looks like in comparison.

Want more? Check out my new Instagram: @ProduceWithPamela.

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Pamela Riemenschneider is the Retail Editor at Blue Book Services, Inc.

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