Amazon made headlines Tuesday with the debut of its newest cashierless grocery store concept in Seattle. The opening drew hundreds of smartphone-equipped shoppers eager to try out the “Just Walk Out” technology that removes the checkout process from the shopping experience.
But does greater automation mean lower prices? GeekWire sought to answer this question with our own test Tuesday evening, shopping for identical products at both Amazon Go Grocery and the Kroger-owned QFC just down the street in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood. Kroger is one of several incumbents facing new competition from Amazon, which is making moves in the $800 billion U.S. grocery industry since its 2017 acquisition of Whole Foods.
We compared a basket of 17 items, from fresh vegetables to packaged goods. The verdict? We saved more than 5 percent, or $2.92, at Amazon Go Grocery, paying $52.78 for items that cost $55.70 with a club card at the nearby QFC. Without a QFC club card, the difference would have been nearly 25 percent, a savings of about $10.
Here are some quick takeaways:
- Produce by the unit. Other than the cashierless tech, this is the biggest difference at Amazon Go Grocery compared to other stores. Fruits and veggies are priced by the unit — for example, $0.80 for one Fuji apple, versus the $2.29 per pound charge at QFC. We weighed the apple at QFC (10oz) and calculated the per unit cost of $1.43. Other examples at Amazon Go Grocery: $0.64 for one yellow onion; $2.29 for one eggplant; $0.58 for one roma tomato; $1.19 for one large avocado; $0.25 for one organic banana.
- A QFC Advantage Card shaved about $10 off our the price of goods. Amazon Go Grocery does not offer a discount program — not yet, at least. You don’t need a Prime membership to shop at Amazon Go Grocery. But don’t be surprised if Amazon rolls out Prime member discounts at Amazon Go much like the company offers at Whole Foods.
- “Surveillance shopping” feels like magic: “So I just walk out?” I asked an employee as I was ready to leave. The technology is impressive. Not having to wait in line is awesome.
- I liked getting my receipt via the app. It took about two hours to get our receipt through the Amazon Go app. This is much longer than at the Amazon Go store. We’re asking Amazon why this was the case. But even with the delay, it’s ultimately a convenience. You can request a refund for each individual item. It’s another reminder of how much data Amazon is collecting — not just what you’ve purchased, but what items you pick up and put back on the shelf at the physical store. It’s much like how Amazon tracks online shoppers browsing its marketplace.
- Yes, but: Sometimes, those conversations with fellow shoppers or few minutes of chatter with a cashier can brighten your day. Amazon Go’s technology seems like another step toward the “de-personalization” of food.
- While the Amazon Go Grocery store does not have cashiers, Amazon employs workers who help restock items and answer customer questions. The company hasn’t disclosed the actual employee count, though we spotted at least five workers roaming the floor, making it feel like a normal grocery store — except for the absence of cashiers and checkout lines. “We’ve simply shifted how our associates spend their time so they can help deliver a great experience for shoppers,” Amazon says on its FAQ page.
- Amazon is everywhere. I made a pit stop at the Amazon-owned Whole Foods up the street from QFC on my way home. After leaving, I drove by another Amazon Go convenience store. And before getting on the highway, an Amazon Prime delivery van passed by. We’re living in Amazon’s world.