Alexa goes to Washington (Franconia, actually): Amazon’s first East Coast grocery store

“Alexa, where can I find the olive oil?”

Amazon opened its first Amazon Fresh grocery store on the East Coast Thursday in Franconia, Virginia, a suburb of the nation’s capital. It also announced it is hiring employees for a second store, which will open soon in Chevy Chase, Maryland.

In the Festival at Manchester Lakes shopping center, at the site of a former Shoppers, t-shirted employees with the word “Fresh” on the shoulders greeted customers, and explained the technology options to shoppers.

“We’re so happy; it’s been a long time coming,” said employee Christopher Allison, whose role involves helping customers find what they need, including through in-store technology.

Some shoppers, wheeling old-school carts, held printed coupons as they looked for specials in the fresh produce section.

Others entering the store stopped for a brief tutorial on the company’s Dash Cart.

“It’s amazing new technology that brings a nice, seamless approach to customer service and shopping,” Allison said.

In other words, the Dash Cart is a mobile device — literally a computer on wheels.

“It allows Amazon account or Amazon Prime holders to check in, and shop in a virtual space,” Allison said.


Let’s say a 60s-ish journalist, moderately tech-savvy, needed some eggs.

“You can connect with your Alexa app, and it will create a shopping list for you. Then, once you pull up your QR code with your Amazon app, your shopping list on Alexa will pop up, and will help guide you exactly where those eggs are in the store,” Allison said.

“And, once you finish your shopping your transaction will be handled without having to actually go and see a cashier,” he said, reassuringly.

But wait a minute — I didn’t find my eggs yet.

Fearing my lack of understanding about Alexa might mean I’d actually have to look for the eggs myself, I desperately tried to grasp how she would come to the rescue. Chris and another worker patiently talked me down.

WTOP's Neal Augenstein tries to grasp Alexa

As the Internet of Things — basically, all the “smart” things with embedded sensors and software that connect and share data — continues to expand, the Amazon Fresh store unsurprisingly has a display of Amazon devices.

Kindle and Fire tablets, as well as Echo speakers, can provide a variety of ways to let Alexa know that you need to pick up some groceries on the way home.

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Neal Augenstein

Neal Augenstein has been a reporter at WTOP since 1997. Through the years, Neal has covered many of the crimes and trials that have gripped the region. Neal's been pleased to receive awards over the years for hard news, feature reporting, use of sound and sports.

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