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Amazon’s concept to reinvent grocery shopping has come to Warrington, with Bensalem next

Amazon Fresh and its electronic shopping carts come to Warrington, with Bensalem next. Unions worry about loss of grocery store jobs.

People learn how to use the Amazon Dash Cart at the new Amazon Fresh grocery store off Easton Road in Warrington, Pa. on Thursday, Aug. 5, 2021. It was the grand opening for the store.
People learn how to use the Amazon Dash Cart at the new Amazon Fresh grocery store off Easton Road in Warrington, Pa. on Thursday, Aug. 5, 2021. It was the grand opening for the store.Read moreHEATHER KHALIFA / Staff Photographer

Amazon Fresh, a new high-tech grocery store concept by the online retail giant that aims to automate food shopping, opened Thursday at Creekview Center on Route 611 in Warrington, Bucks County, and another store is expected on Street Road in Bensalem.

At Amazon Fresh stores, shoppers use electronic Amazon Dash carts, which automatically weigh and charge customers without having to go through checkout. Shoppers can scan in their QR code on their Amazon app, and insert a credit or debit card linked to their Amazon account. Then, whatever they take off the shelf is automatically added to their virtual carts, allowing customers to walk out without going through a cashier.

Fifteen of these stores have already opened in states such as Illinois and California. This is the first in Pennsylvania, representatives for Amazon said.

“We’re proud to support the community by creating hundreds of high-quality local jobs” paying $15 an hour, the company said in an emailed statement.

“We’re excited to begin serving the Warrington community and to welcome customers into our doors” on Thursday, Ron Marra, store manager at the new Warrington Amazon Fresh grocery store at 389 Easton Rd., said in a statement. “This store has created hundreds of good jobs with benefits locally.”

Carol Kaufman-Scarborough, professor of marketing at Rutgers University–Camden, said: “Amazon Fresh stores tend to be aimed at busy people — often millennials — who are employed and may be juggling many roles. Their format relies on technology acceptance.”

While shopping online, or in cashierless stores, “consumers have learned many new habits during and after the pandemic,” she said. “They form new routines and have become accustomed to immediate or next-day delivery. And now that the COVID variant has become of concern, a limited-contact format and delivery option becomes even more attractive.”

Grocery delivery can be especially helpful to seniors and people with disabilities. “These methods are not entirely new but are enhanced by technology,” she added.

Still, the concept worries privacy rights groups due to Amazon’s close tracking of customers — and what the company will do with all the data it is compiling.

Unions are also concerned about tough working conditions and the loss of jobs.

Wendell Young, president of Local 1776 of United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW), said, “Amazon has been widely reported to be a bad actor. There are hundreds of news stories detailing the way that this company mistreats workers.”

“Any company that has such a well-defined and documented history of abuse should not be welcome in any community.”

In an April release, the UFCW, which represents 1.3 million essential workers in grocery and related industries, also condemned Amazon’s expansion into the Amazon Fresh grocery chain and Amazon Go cashier-less stores, saying they will ultimately threaten the jobs of 16 million retail workers.

An Amazon representative declined to say how many people the new store would employ: “We don’t break out the numbers for full and part-time employees. The number of associates at each store will vary; however, each store will employ hundreds of associates.”

The company has repeatedly defended its labor record, and says it is bringing high-quality jobs.

» READ MORE: Amazon now encircles the Philadelphia region with over 50 warehouses

For consumers, the big draw may be convenience. Customers can order from home, through Amazon Fresh’s website or app.

Rather than go through Whole Foods stores, which Amazon bought in 2017, Amazon Fresh online orders are fulfilled from local Amazon warehouses, then shipped directly to customers. Amazon Fresh also provides fewer organic items and focuses on more traditional brands.

There are two delivery options: Doorstep delivery or attended delivery, where residents must be available to accept the groceries. The store offers free, same-day delivery and pick-up for Amazon Prime members.

The high-technology-driven store concept is just the latest marketing niche in groceries, said John Stanton, professor of food marketing at St. Joseph’s University.

“High-tech reduces the cost of products. All customer data are recorded; there’s less chance of being out of stock ... ,” Stanton said.

Among American consumers, he added, “there are no longer markets that everyone likes a lot. There are markets somebody likes. We are watching the change taking place from supermarket meant for everybody, with a pulse and a penny, to market niches. And there are riches in niches.”

» READ MORE: Pa.’s Amazon workers have almost twice as many serious injuries as other warehouse workers here

Amazon Dash Cart enables customers to skip the checkout line, and Alexa helps customers manage shopping lists and navigate aisles.

“When you exit through the store’s Amazon Dash Cart lane, sensors automatically identify the cart, and your payment is processed using the credit card on your Amazon account,” according to Amazon’s website.

It’s unclear when the Bensalem store will open. All stores accept cash and SNAP benefits. Customers can also pick up and return packages at the Amazon Fresh store.

“That makes sense, because it integrates Amazon returns for customers who might then want to pick up something at the Amazon Fresh grocery store,” Stanton said.