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John Ryan

Keeping Things Local

Amazon Fresh debuts in London.

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Amazon Fresh store in Seattle, WA.

AT THE BEGINNING of this month, the U.K. became the first European market to be blessed with an Amazon just-walk-out store. As there are several different Amazon store formats that use the technology that enables app-equipped shoppers to walk into a store, take something of the shelf and exit (payment is then taken from your bank account and a receipt appears on your phone), it is worth clarifying that the store in question is an Amazon Fresh.

Crowds gathered at the opening in Ealing (a West London suburb), U.K., journalists mostly, and the shop looked busy – with those who had figured out how to download the app and then use it to get into the store. What was particularly interesting, however, was perhaps less the fact that this is similar to a U.S. Amazon outpost, but rather more the manner in which the store had been adapted to cater to U.K. tastes.

Practically, this meant everything from signage informing shoppers that the meat that was on display (accompanied by English pastoral-looking pictures) was British, to product selections that look pretty close to a Pret a Manger offer, all calculated to make Brits feel at home, even if the tech was space-age. This is an imported form of retailing, but one that has very deliberately been made to feel local.

It is understood that this will not be a one-off and that Amazon has already lined up multiple locations in the U.K. in which it intends to open more Fresh branches, or maybe an Amazon Go or two. It seems a fair bet that most of these will, initially at least, be in London and the South-East, but given the positive reception afforded by shoppers and the media, it will almost certainly appear elsewhere in short order.

The real point about what has been done here is that Amazon has understood the U.K. is different from the U.S. and acted accordingly. Venturing overseas does not just mean replicating what you already do and taking it somewhere else. Thinking local counts.

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John Ryan is a journalist covering the retail sector, a role he has fulfilled for more than a decade. As well as being the European Editor of VMSD magazine, he writes for a broad range of publications in the U.K., the U.S. and Germany with a focus on in-store marketing, display and layout, as well as the business of store architecture and design. In a previous life, he was a buyer for C&A, based in London and then Düsseldorf, Germany. He lives and works in London.

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