On March 2, Reuters broke the news that Amazon is planning to close all 68 of its Amazon Books, Amazon 4-Star and pop-up physical locations after those attempts to translate Amazon's online strength into brick-and-mortar success failed to gain traction. But grocery—grocery is a different story.
The Seattle-based retail giant has more than a dozen Amazon Fresh grocery locations currently in the works in the U.S., Reuters reported, to add on to the company's two dozen other Fresh stores in California, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Washington State, and Washington, D.C.
Fresh also has a growing physical presence in London, where Amazon has opened 12 locations offering checkout-free Just Walk Out technology. (Amazon-owned Whole Foods Market debuted its first Just Walk Out experience in Washington, D.C., last week.)
And on a chilly March 3 morning in the large Chicago suburb of Naperville, Ill., a crowd of bundled-up early risers gave visual testament to consumer curiosity about Amazon's biggest grocery experiment, forming a snaking parking-lot line before 7 a.m. for the chance to experience Amazon Fresh's newest location at 1351 E. Ogden Ave.
Tech Front and Center
Tech meant to remove points of friction from the grocery shopping experience is a key part of Amazon Fresh's competitive play, and Amazon's Just Walk Out technology is the star of that offering—or, at least, it is for as long as checkout-free technology remains a novelty and a differentiator in the grocery industry.
Customers who want to use Just Walk Out scan their Amazon app when they walk in, fill their cart or basket, and then check out and exit by scanning their app again. Traditional, staffed checkout stands are available as well.
Just Walk Out isn't Amazon Fresh's only in-store eye-catcher, however. At the end of the first center aisle in Amazon Fresh's new Naperville store (the suburb's second Amazon Fresh location), an Ask Alexa display stand invites shoppers to ask what's on sale, where they can find a given item or even, "What wine pairs with cheddar?"
Another standout: Product star ratings on shelf tags, curated from Amazon customers. That heat-and-eat pork chile verde in the refrigerated case across from the plant-based case? It apparently has a 4.5-star rating, based on 310 reviews.
Welcome to (North) Naperville
Amazon Fresh's newest location is the concept's second store in Naperville, a large and largely affluent suburb about 30 miles west of Chicago. Naperville's first Amazon Fresh—the first Amazon Fresh in Illinois—opened on the city's southwest side in December 2020.
In an interview with WGB last spring, Michael Della Penna, chief strategy officer at consumer analytics provider InMarket, said that Amazon Fresh overindexes with well-to-do deal-seekers, based on his company's research. The concept's top four personas, according to InMarket, are "affluent savers," "value seekers," "persevering parents" and "frugal epicureans." (In comparison, Amazon-owned Whole Foods overindexes most with "focused and on-the-go," "mature and assured," "healthy and wealthy" and "household organizer" personas.)
Amazon Fresh also overindexes with Hispanic and Asian consumers, Della Penna said. An Amazon Fresh shopper, he said, "is 3.6 times more likely to be Asian than the national average, compared to 2.7 times [the national average] at Whole Foods."
Chanel Alexander drove from Countryside, more than 20 miles away, to be in line by 6:45 a.m. for Amazon Fresh's grand opening. Alexander said she had never shopped from Amazon Fresh in-store or online, doing most of her regular shopping at Whole Foods, Trader Joe's or Albertsons-owned Chicago stalwart Jewel.
A DJ and complimentary coffee, water, cookie and soda samples greeted those who queued up, and Amazon offered scratch-off Amazon gift cards of $5 to $100 for the first 250 shoppers. Free branded wine glasses were available too at the store's exit—from which you could almost see a recently remodeled Aldi in a small shopping plaza across the street.
The Amazon Books and 4-Star stores may be going away, but the concept of a small, curated, in-store collection of items popular on Amazon.com is not. A Best of Amazon display near the Amazon Fresh exit offers books, games and small kitchen and household tools and appliances. Customers can return items purchased on Amazon.com at the store, as well.
For those who weren't part of the caffeinated and motivated grand-opening crowd, Amazon Fresh at 1351 E. Ogden Ave. in Naperville is now open from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily.