Hundreds of people waited in line early Wednesday for the opening of an Amazon Fresh grocery store in Norridge, Ill, just minutes from the Chicago border.
The first person took his place in line at 3:58 a.m., hours before the 7 a.m. opening, with early shoppers treated to 50% off discounts, giveaways and 20% discounts for Amazon Prime rewards members on “everyday essentials” items.
The Norridge grand opening was the second on Wednesday alone for Amazon Fresh. The fast-growing grocery chain, which currently has 34 locations, also opened a store in Oceanside, N.Y., its first in the state. Just last week, an Amazon Fresh store launched in Arlington, Va., the third to open in that area this summer.
Amazon Fresh debuted in August 2020 in Bellevue, Wash., and now has stores in California, Illinois, Maryland, New York, Washington, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Washington, D.C.
It has future markets planned in California, Connecticut, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. An Amazon Fresh spokeswoman on Wednesday declined to say how many more markets would open this year and next, except to note that the chain is growing.
The supermarket features what Amazon calls “Just Walk Out Shopping.” And it’s almost as seamless as that: Download the Amazon shopping app and scan the QR code it generates to enter the store’s gate. Load up the tech-enabled shopping cart with food and other items and scan the code again to exit and walk out the door.
Amazon says shoppers are able to skip the checkout line through “a combination of computer vision, sensor fusion and deep learning.”
But the store also has several traditional checkout lanes for shoppers who prefer the old school experience.
Since I’m about to leave my job as an editor at Restaurant Business to become managing editor at sister publication Winsight Grocery Business, I decided to join that line at the Norridge Amazon Fresh about 30 minutes before the doors opened Wednesday for my first time inside one of Amazon’s grocery stores.
Inside the newest Amazon Fresh store
Amazon Fresh workers gave us tote bags with snacks from Plenty, along with some store coupons. Workers also cruised the line, showing us how to download the Amazon shopping app and call up the all-important QR code for entry and payment.
Once inside, the 50,000-square-foot store struck me as bright, clean and well-organized. Knowing I wouldn’t have to fight for a place in the checkout line made the shopping experience much more relaxing than usual. And the vast selection of prepared foods had me making a note to come back again with my kids for a cheap and easy lunch or dinner.
The deals on both groceries and prepared foods are notable, and especially enticing, given Tuesday’s federal report that food-away-from-home prices rose another 0.9% in June, up 7.7% this year, the highest rate since 1981. Restaurant prices meanwhile also hit a new 40-year high during the period.
As I noted in Restaurant Business, restaurant operators have good reason to be nervous about the fast growth of Amazon Fresh, given its convenience, low prices and buffet of ready-to-eat offerings.
Similarly, grocery operators should keep a watchful eye on the chain as they look for ways to make their stores more convenient and value focused.