If you’re sick of the lines at Giant or Safeway, there’s a new store that could enhance your Saturday morning grocery trip: Amazon Fresh. With a new Amazon headquarters eventually launching in National Landing, the monolith is transforming Northern Virginia and its technology in more ways than one. This Amazon Fresh, located in the City of Fairfax, utilizes Just Walk Out technology, allowing customers to enter, shop, and — you guessed it — just walk out with their goods.
There’s already an Amazon Fresh store in Franconia, and Fresh Fairfax is the first full-size Fresh store using Just Walk Out shopping in the DMV. More locations — and subsequent employment opportunities — are coming to NoVA in Manassas, Arlington, and Lorton.
Amazon Fresh is like a typical grocer, but the technology is what changes the game. You can enter the store and use its sophisticated shopping technology in a couple of ways. When you first walk in, you’re greeted by entry gates similar to that of a Metro station. To enter, you’re required to scan a code from your Amazon app, use a credit or debit card associated with your Amazon account, or even use your palm, which you can set up at a station off to the side upon coming into the store. If you’re shopping as a family, you just have to scan once and then all walk in together.
Cameras and sensors detect which items you take from store shelves and adds them to your virtual cart — if you put an item back, the technology catches that, too.
The pricing is also digital, which makes it easier for the store to change prices; rather than having to replace stickers, Amazon Fresh is able to simply alter the tag by computer. The price tags on certain products also show the rating that you’d see on the website’s reviews — allowing you to check out if Nestle Toll House cookie dough is really worth its five stars.
And when you’re done shopping, all you have to do is walk out on the other side of the store. You’ll receive your receipt in a matter of hours — and if any problems arrive, there’s a customer service number to report any discrepancies, as well as in-store help.
District Manager Jim Gillespie believes that with George Mason University’s Fairfax campus nearby, and with other people living so close to the area, the store will provide a quick place for people to stop by on their busy days.
Gillespie, who has worked in retail since the 1980s, says that while it works just like any other grocery store, the convenience is what sets it apart.
“For everybody that lives around here, you have the ability to scan in, grab what you want, put it in a bag, scan out, skip this whole [checkout] process, and get home and make dinner faster. I remember reading about this format, as a competitor in my old life and my other positions, going ‘Wow, that’s gonna be amazing.’”
The Fairfax Amazon Fresh has a wide range of products, including Amazon brands like Happy Belly, international goods, and simple, well-known classics like Hidden Valley ranch. The store also offers plant-based items from Amazon Fresh’s own line, from almond milk to meatless meat. There’s also household items available, like diapers and soap.
Unused and leftover products will be donated to a local food bank.
You can shop ahead of time using your Amazon account and pick the items up in store, and the location will also eventually offer delivery. This store, in addition to having the typical grocery goods, has a spot where you can grab a small kitchen appliance — or even a new Kindle. Amazon lockers are also available for use if you don’t want a package sitting on your doorstep.
The Fairfax location has ready-to-eat goods, so you can grab something from the hot bar or a quick cup of coffee (I got a double espresso within seconds). Rather than pay for the food itself, there’s a flat rate per container, allowing you to fill it to your heart’s content.
There are multiple ‘Ask Alexa’ stations throughout the store. Just like you would at home, you can ask Alexa to answer any questions you may have — from where to locate an item to what white wine pairs best with fish (she says Chardonnay, by the way).
The alcohol aisle works like the other aspects of the store, but there’s someone to monitor the space, which is sectioned off. An employee monitors the area and checks customer’s IDs before allowing them to enter to purchase their beverage of choice — sorry nearby Mason students, Just Walk Out doesn’t mean it’s a free-for-all.
Alexander Patton, an associate experience zone lead, says Fresh Fairfax has hundreds of employees working 24/7. While the store itself is open to the public 7 a.m.-10 p.m., the night shift staff will be taking over for the day side after the store closes, continuing to do the same work, like stocking goods and managing store grounds.
Patton is excited to see the hard work of opening the Fairfax store to pay off, and both he and Gillespie are ready for customers to see something like they never have before in the region.
“I think for most people, especially on the East Coast because this is our first full-scale, Just Walk Out store, it’s something they haven’t seen before, experienced — most of them, at least anyway. So, I think that’s going to be a major part of the appeal: doing the just walk out, seeing what that’s like — ‘Is it real? Am I really just going to take something off the shelf and just walk out?’ I think that’s going to be the catch for a lot of people,” Patton says.
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