Inside the Store: The first Whole Foods with Just Walk Out is beautiful. Just don’t look up.

With its neon signs and pops of teal and mustard yellow, the newly reopened Whole Foods Market in Washington, DC’s Glover Park neighborhood is so gorgeous that it’s almost possible to miss the hundreds of small cameras hanging down from the ceiling.

But look up and there they are — the digital tentacles that help power parent company Amazon’s Just Walk Out cashier-less technology that’s been newly added to the natural and organic store at 2323 Wisconsin Ave. NW.

The Glover Park store, which reopened on Feb. 23 after a nearly five-year-long closure, marks the first Whole Foods to offer Just Walk Out. A second Whole Foods in Sherman Oaks, California, is slated to roll out the technology later this year.

Exterior of the Whole Foods Market in the Glover Park neighborhood of Washington, DC

Courtesy of Whole Foods Market

Amazon had previously brought Just Walk Out to its Amazon Go stores and some of its Amazon Fresh locations and has licensed it to retailers, including UK grocery chain Sainsbury’s, along with stadiums and hospitality companies.

Its addition to Whole Foods is not surprising: Amazon has used Whole Foods as a testing ground of sorts after it bought the chain in 2017. Updates like adding box- and label-free return services, the palm payment tool Amazon One and now Just Walk Out technology have, for better or worse, infused the specialty grocer with Amazon’s leading-edge technology. The New York Times recently called it the “Amazonification of Whole Foods.”

When I visited the Glover Park store for the first time last Tuesday, I was struck by all the ways the store weaves together the signature elements of Whole Foods — like its emphasis on local products and high sourcing standards — with digital innovations, like Just Walk Out and Amazon One, from its parent company.

How the tech impacts the shop

At 21,500 square feet, the Glover Park store is nearly three times the Amazon Fresh store that recently opened in the Logan Circle neighborhood. I’m initially stunned by the fact that Amazon is now able to expand cashierless technology beyond convenience stores to a full-size grocery venue.

I’m first confronted by gates just inside the entrance where I must pick my method for entry and then exit: Scan a code in the Amazon or Whole Foods app, use Amazon One with a palm hover, or insert a credit or debit card linked to my Amazon account to access the Just Walk Out experience. Or, walk through a separate gate for self-checkout.

The entry requirements give off a vibe of exclusivity, but I doubt that will be a turn-off for Whole Foods’ clientele.

Entry/exit gates for Just Walk Out and self-checkout.

Courtesy of Whole Foods Market

I used Just Walk Out once before when the Amazon Fresh store opened in the city’s Logan Circle neighborhood last summer, but I still have trouble finding the in-app code. One of the two workers stationed at the entrance helps me out and asks if I want to get set up with Amazon One. Not today, thanks.

Along with the workers at the entrance, employees are also stationed at the gates towards the back of the store, which lead to the parking garage, and near the self-checkout stations. While tech innovations are often promoted as ways to replace or free up human workers, this store is a good reminder that workers might still need to help customers with the learning curve that comes with tech-driven features.

As I travel the store, I notice the subtle changes to the shopping experience prompted by Just Walk Out. At the salad and hot food bars, signs say containers are priced by size instead of by weight. Salad boxes start at $9.99 for a small box while soup containers start at $5.99. It’s a similar situation over at the self-serve coffee station.

At “The Cellar,” a room filled with wine and beer, a worker at the entrance verifies shoppers’ ages before they enter. It reminds me of getting carded before entering a club or bar, and I don’t feel like digging my wallet and ID out of my bag at this point to browse wine I wasn’t planning to buy. Having the employee at the entrance seems to discourage browsing, but the store has found other opportunities to fuel discovery.

Salad and hot bars.

Courtesy of Whole Foods Market

Come for the innovation, stay for the discovery

Grocers and convenience stores have turned to cashierless technology as a way to speed up shoppers’ trips, but this Whole Foods store doesn’t seem to want shoppers to rush through.

The store layout is designed to draw people in. Dairy and cheese are located in the far back right corner. “The Cellar” is also at the back of the store, as is the gorgeous bakery section with its turquoise walls.

Cheese shop.

Courtesy of Whole Foods Market

As grocers renovate their stores to make them more aesthetically attractive, this Whole Foods is going for glam with its splashes of color and neon signs throughout.

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