In an age of chronic grocery labor challenges, when major chains often rely heavily on computerized training programs to get new store employees up to speed, it’s notable that Amazon Fresh—the tech-focused grocer owned by e-tailer giant Amazon—employs “associate experience” leads, whose job it is to ensure workers are trained and ready to receive the public before its stores even open.
Amazon Fresh opened its 13th location, and its first on the East Coast, on May 27. The new approximately 30,000-square-foot store at 7005 C Manchester Blvd., Franconia, Va., features the grocer’s trademark “seamless” shopping experience, including Alexa information kiosks, the Dash Cart checkout-free experience, scales for self-weighing and self-labeling produce and much more.
But don’t let all the sleek AI fool you, Amazon Fresh is also looking to differentiate with its team of well-trained, “customer-obsessed,” knowledgeable and passionate in-store employees.
Heba Zalzala, the newly named zone lead for associate experiences at the Franconia Amazon Fresh told WGB in a phone interview on the store’s opening day, “It’s a role I love.” As soon as the latest Amazon Fresh began onboarding associates, Zalzala was on the scene to ensure a “smooth and flawless” experience for each and every employee throughout the entire training process.
Zone leads for associate experiences typically train new employees for three to four weeks. Every associate is onboarded and “training is extremely extensive,” said Zalzala, who notes that she herself underwent immersive training. She imparts that knowledge to new hires, who will in turn do the same for new employees in the future.
With Franconia, Amazon Fresh’s first D.C.-area location, the Seattle-based company’s “Day One” philosophy is also in full force. Zalzala, who has a background in retail and hospitality, said what the “Day One” mindset means to her is that there are always things to figure out and learn, so every day is fresh and new. It’ll never be “Day Two” at Amazon.
On literal day one at the Franconia store, Zalzala witnessed shoppers embrace the store’s technology-driven convenience, new brands, store brands such as Aplenty, Happy Belly and 365, and what she calls a one-stop-shop experience. She told WGB that the majority of shoppers chose the Dash Cart over traditional shopping carts.
Like its other locations, the new Amazon Fresh is aggressive on low-priced items available to shop every day, including bananas for 15 cents; freshly baked bread for 89 cents; freshly baked pizza slices ($1.79); and rotisserie chickens priced at $4.97.
Next up, Amazon Fresh has announced it has begun hiring full- and part-time employees for its newest confirmed location in Chevy Chase, Md.Positions at the store offer starting wages of at least $15 an hour and comprehensive benefits, the company said.
For shoppers who wished there was a store that combined their favorite Whole Foods products with mainstream grocery items such as Coca-Cola and Kraft Mac and Cheese, and accompanied this magical mixture with the online-savvy, delivery, Alexa-enabled and checkout-free technology of Amazon, dreams do come true. Amazon Fresh, which opened its new Woodland Hills, Calif., location to select customers on Aug. 27, plans to welcome the public in the coming weeks.
“Customers can find items in the store more quickly by using Alexa and Alexa shopping lists,” according to the Amazon Fresh blog. “When customers arrive in-store, they can access their Alexa shopping list through the Amazon app or on the Amazon Dash Cart, enabling them to quickly navigate aisles and check off items as they shop. Throughout the store we have Amazon Echo Show devices available to ask Alexa for help—simply say, ‘Alexa, where can I find the hot sauce?’ ”
Unlike sister store Whole Foods Market, which is often referred to as “Whole Paycheck,” the Amazon Fresh store said it “offers consistently low prices for all” and free same-day delivery and pickup for Prime members. Here, the Amazon Dash Cart is also in play, allowing customers to skip the checkout line. Shoppers sign into the cart using a QR code on their Amazon app, and then place their bags in the cart, shop and exit through the Dash Cart lane. The cart uses a combination of computer vision algorithms and sensor fusion to identify items in the cart.
Shoppers can request Order Ahead items from the deli, meat and seafood counters, as well as whole pizzas via the Amazon app when they arrive in-store or on the way there. Customers can also shop while their Order Ahead items are prepared. Amazon Fresh will notify them when the order is ready for pickup at the service counter.