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What’s the Point of an IRL Amazon Grocery Store?

After several tepidly received attempts at the grocery market, the online giant is still plotting a line of non-Whole Foods stores

An employee stands in front of a display at an Amazon Go store
Amazon Go
Screenshot

Amazon’s foray into the grocery world has been pretty rocky. Though customers order non-perishable staples from their website, Americans still hesitate to buy all their groceries online. And the online giant’s purchase of Whole Foods, with the aim of selling fresh and organic food for even cheaper, has been complicated by complaints that store quality has taken a nosedive since the acquisition, and that its workers are fed up and trying to unionize for better treatment. But that’s not stopping the company from pushing forward into the grocery world. The question isn’t if Amazon will attempt groceries (they already have), but what, exactly, it thinks a successful grocery store looks like.

As announced in March, Amazon has plans to open a number of non-Whole Foods grocery stores. On Sunday, the New York Times reported more details on the potential chain, which would be built ”specifically with pickup and delivery in mind, and with a smaller area dedicated to fresh shopping.” However, these would presumably be different from the Amazon Go stores that already exist, which sell prepared foods and convenience items to anyone, as long as you don’t dare to pay in cash.

In a job posting for a store designer, Amazon is reportedly looking for someone who can create “multiple customer experiences under one roof.” However, that sounds a lot like, you know, a regular grocery store, of which there are plenty. The grocery store two blocks from my apartment has a hot bar, a halal butcher, a deli and dessert counter, and all manner of fresh and packaged grocery items, and will deliver for a fee. If Amazon were looking to operate in areas suffering from food apartheid, that’d be one thing, but this sounds less about innovation and more about domination.

The idea of a store dedicated to pick up and delivery, with a small area for in-person shopping, is reminiscent of Amaon’s 4-star stores, which only stock select items that have earned at least four stars on its website. Given that much of Amazon purchasing is already determined by algorithm suggestions, and that the stores don’t stock everything rated four stars and above, the result is a store where you can buy an InstantPot that’s next to a book about mindfulness or a popular board game, but where you can’t guarantee the presence of, say, ibuprofen in the “health” section. It especially isn’t a great model for a grocery store, where the whole point is there is ample fruit in the fruit aisle.

Whatever Amazon is planning, it’s one more step into the brand having a stake in almost every aspect of human life (hello, Amazon Web Services), a real-life, non-satiric Buy N Large from WALL-E.

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