Arts & Leisure

New frontier of supermarkets

THE AMAZON FRESH store in Fullerton (Orange County Tribune photos).


Travel with us now into a new frontier thanks to Jeff Bezos and crew ….

No, we don’t mean that private rocket that propelled the billionaire Amazon founder into suborbital space a few days ago. We mean something closer to home: a new way to get food.

Typically our Chow Lines column focuses on restaurants, but most of us still get our food – i.e., chow – from supermarkets and grocery stores. The newest and more interesting entry into the Orange County market is Amazon Fresh.

It started as a same-day delivery service, but all the major supermarket chains are now offering that. What distinguishes this operation today is its investment in brick-and-mortar stores, combined with some state-of-the art technology.
We visited the store in Fullerton on Harbor Boulevard, just south of that city’s downtown.  It was an eye-opening experience.

If you want to shop for groceries (and other items) you have two choices. One is the conventional cart and the checkout line. The far more interesting alternative is the Dash Cart. As you put an item in the green plastic cart, its cameras and sensors take note of the product, charge your credit or debit card account and display relevant data (including price) on a display screen on the handle bar. If you change your mind and put the item back, the system deducts that from your total.

When you push your cart down the exit lane, your transaction is completed. Boom!

MARILYN with berries and a Dash Cart at the Amazon Fresh.

Now, it’s useful to point out that the process is a trifle more complicated than that, especially for first-timers, as we were. Before you can start shopping using the Dash cart, you must have the latest Amazon app on your smart phone and connect with your card, with Wi-Fi enabled.

You are given two medium-sized paper sacks and warned that this is your limit; you can’t fill the bags over a certain level because the in-cart camera can’t see properly. You also are told to not grab soda cartons or big water jugs for similar reasons. You can’t take your Dash Cart out the door; you have to heft your purchases in your arms, or – presumably – transfer them to the old-style carts.

So why such limits? Part is technology and part is by plan: the Dash Cart is intended for quick shopping trips such as you might make your way toward an express lane. If you want to stock up for a holiday, you’d best grab the conventional wire cart.

Once you have mastered all this, the process is glass smooth. The store is pretty and bright; the selection will match almost anything you would find in a standard Vons or Ralphs.

There’s even a Fresh Kitchen for take-out meals and a small space where Amazon books and devices are plugged. Prices, as far as we could tell, were generally in line with other supermarkets.

Marilyn found the Amazon Fresh store exciting and fun, and was pleasantly surprised by the selection. Jim agrees but wished the process for signing up rookie shoppers was a little simpler and friendlier; he wants that stuff as smooth as a gravy sandwich and friendly as Santa.

Overall, this is a very promising concept with some bumps yet to be ironed out. If they can expand the cart’s capabilities size-wise and tweak the orientation, this marketing concept could really blast off.

Chow Lines is written by Jim and Marilyn Tortolano.

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