A supermarket with no checkout. Sort of.

Amazon's "Fresh" store in Woodland Hills beats going to the amusement park

Disneyland is closed. Ditto for Universal Studios.

But if it’s entertainment you seek in Los Angeles, a visit to Woodland Hills and that new Amazon supermarket is not only photoworthy, but quite entertaining as well. Entrance and parking is free.

It’s a full-scale Amazon supermarket, the first of its kind, deep in the heart of San Fernando Valley, directly across the street from the sprawling Topanga Plaza shopping mall. (Amazon Fresh also opened in Irvine this week, 13672 Jamboree Rd, but I’ve only made it to Woodland Hills.)   

Fresh has a lot to offer, beyond cut-rate food prices and a new way of shopping. Consider:

  • A market cart that automatically tallies every item placed in it (sort of), giving you a running tally of your total (sans taxes) as you navigate your way down aisles?

  • Stations strategically placed throughout the store, allowing you to pose questions to the Alexa digital personal assistant about how to find items within the Fresh establishment?

  • And best of all—no checkout line. Sort of. Let me fill you in.

Let’s start with the logistics: you enter and ask for one of those amazing carts, but when we got there, they were all in use. We were invited to go up and down the aisles with regular carts, but what’s the fun of that?

So were we invited to wait, outside the store, into the 98 degree 10/16 weather, with about 10 people ahead of us.

Once we made it back inside, we were escorted over to an Amazon rep who explained the set-up for us. We needed to have the Amazon shopping smartphone app installed on our phone, (which we already did,) click the cart icon, then the “Fresh in-Store,” tab. From there, we got a QR code which we matched to the cart, and from there, Amazon’s cart knew my name, shopping history and had my credit card information. The works.

An instructional video played on the cart screen first, telling us how to use the Fresh system, and once that was done, we were free to go up and down the aisles. Which were extremely crowded and one-way only. As I say, a new supermarket with fantastic prices aiming to change the shopping experience brought a lot of people out, who seemed very eager to check out these crazy carts.

Yes, it really is as simple as taking an item off the shelf, placing into the cart and having a camera identity it within seconds onto your cart screen.

When it responded correctly. The Hershey bar, the cat food, the cookbook all worked flawlessly. Fruit and vegetables were a pain. You’re asked to type in a UPC code that’s so small it was very hard to decipher. I had to ask an Amazon rep to read it for me. When I inserted the ClingWrap it was missed by the Amazon robot, and lights started flashing on the cart for it to be re-submitted. On the second try, I asked the cart to read the UPC code (which had to be scanned) and all worked well.

I asked another rep what would happen if we put something in the cart, got dinged for it, then changed our mind and pulled it out. Would the robot know? Yes, she insisted.

So I threw in a Kindle Paperwhite device, which sells for $129. Ch-ching said the cart. Then I took it out. And it all went away.

Fantastic.

Amazon devices are offered for sale on the floor, like Fire TV Sticks, Kindle e-readers and Echo speakers, and Alexa stations are positioned within the store, for verbal robotic assistance to find items. I learned where to find Crispix cereal from Alexa, on aisle 12.

Unlike the Amazon Go 7-Eleven type stores in Seattle, where you just walk out, and await an e-mail receipt, at the Fresh store, you actually have some work to do before saying goodbye.

You don’t have to stand on line and go through the checkout process, which is good. But Amazon only gives you two shopping bags per cart to work with. So when it’s time to leave, you enter a bagging area to grab available bags and put your stuff in them. This area was really crowded on Saturday afternoon.

And by the time I got outside, my bag was ripped. The experts are way better at bagging than I am.

Verdict: shopping with a tech cart is a blast, but the Fresh store is not made for pandemic times. It’s just too crowded. And my local Trader Joe’s is way better at bagging than I’ll ever be.

This week’s appearances

I visited with the guys from the Money Radio Network in Phoenix, and our friends at KNX in Los Angeles, talkin’, what else? Those new iPhones.

Speaking of the iPhones

The number one question I got this week: “Should I upgrade to the new iPhone?”

I have some answers for you about the new iPhone 12 and 12 Pro here: https://www.usatoday.com/story/tech/gadgets/2020/10/23/iphone-12-should-you-upgrade-review-best-apple-phone-yet/3728377001/

More: https://www.usatoday.com/story/tech/2020/10/20/apple-iphone-12-pro-first-impressions-zippier-great-camera/5993065002/

I invite you to take look at footage shot in low light, with my pal Sean Fujiwara in Long Beach. That’s Sean below, shot on iPhone 11 Pro on the left, and iPhone 12 on the right, straight out of the camera, with no editing. A picture is worth 1,000 words, right?

This week I also took a good hard look at the re-designed Amazon Echo speakers:

https://www.usatoday.com/story/tech/2020/10/22/amazon-echo-and-dot-upgrades-tout-new-look-better-sound/3719834001/

Also: some cool new things you can do with Photoshop, like changing the colors of the sky in a snap: https://www.usatoday.com/story/tech/2020/10/20/adobe-photoshop-neural-filter-photo-editing/5980088002/

Tweet of the Week

Happy Halloween!

Until next time!

Thanks as always for taking the time to read the newsletter. If you enjoyed it, please let me know with a heart, a reply, a tweet, whatever. Check out my website for more photos (http://www.jeffersongraham.net) Facebook and Twitter for my latest musings. Tell all your friends to subscribe to the newsletter—please! and I look forward to checking back in with everyone next week.

Keep smilin’!

Jeff