Grocery shoppers in the Crossroads can now skip the checkout line. Newly outfitted with Amazon’s Just Walk Out and Amazon One technology, Community Groceries Crossroads Market reopened to the public Friday.
The Crossroads Market — owned by Kortney Lee at 640 East 18th St. — is the first store in Kansas City and the first third-party grocery store in the country to be equipped with both Amazon technologies.
“There’s a lot of firsts that I wasn’t aware of until they announced it on (Dec. 16),” Lee said. “But it was beautiful because it’s here in Kansas City. I wanted to introduce this technology to Kansas City, especially the urban core, because I wanted to help change the buyer’s experience. Buyer’s experiences are what I focused on.”
To enter the store, Lee explained, customers need to swipe their debit or credit card or scan their palm if they have an Amazon One account set up. The virtual cart technology will keep track of the products customers take and return to the shelves. They will only be charged once they leave the store with products. Customers buying alcohol will be carded before leaving.
Although the store isn’t currently set up to take cash customers, Lee added, he plans to offer that option in the future.
“Amazon’s technologies change the way we think about shopping,” said Alyssa Groenig, director of sales and marketing for Community Groceries, in a new release. “I, like most people, have a very full schedule, and grocery shopping is a tedious task for me. This new experience will enable me, and all of our guests, to shop efficiently and be on our way with no checkout lines and no hassle.”
Lee — who has a software engineering background — first opened Community Groceries in the Crossroads in January 2021 to provide access to affordable and healthy groceries, especially in underserved areas.
He read about Amazon using the Just Walk Out technology in March 2020 and approached the retail giant in September 2020 about possibly using it to provide a more comfortable shopping experience for his customers and cut down on theft. After putting the pressure on and pitching himself and his idea for the technology to Amazon, he started the long process of contract negotiations for the project — which he has completely bootstrapped — in March 2021.
“We are thrilled to work with Community Groceries to unlock a fast and frictionless experience for their shoppers in Kansas City — one we believe they’ll enjoy very much,” said Dilip Kumar, vice president of AWS Applications, in a statement. “Community Groceries is renowned for encouraging healthy lifestyles and focusing first and foremost on their local community, so we’re honored to have them as our first customer in the grocery vertical to launch a Just Walk Out technology and Amazon One-enabled store.”
As announced last year, Lee is planning to open a second Community Groceries location at Armour Boulevard and Troost Avenue. He said the second location — which will also utilize the Amazon technology — is set to open by this spring.
The Crossroads Market is eventually expected to feature upstairs seating, Lee said, which will allow customers to enjoy their drinks or snacks or sandwiches in a quiet space.
The store will have products from about 40 local vendors, he added, including CoffeeFreshAF, ‘Amir’acle Body Butters, 23 local breweries, and Tea-Biotics — which has a kombucha bar within the store.
Shonta Dabney, owner of CoffeFreshAF, was on-hand Friday for the space’s grand reopening with samples of her coffee. As a fairly new business owner, she said, she’s excited to be a part of Community Groceries.
“When they told me the idea, I thought of an airport,” Dabney added. “I thought this store would be an airport versus a neighborhood. I’m definitely gonna shop today because I want the entire experience and I’m just blessed to be here.”
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Getting the technology in place, Lee said, has been a long and tedious process that required him to shut down the store for half the year. In January 2022, he first started working on the project and had to figure out how to make the technology work for this specific location.
For example, using Amazon’s Dash Carts was not an option because he had enough difficulty keeping track of regular shopping carts, he said. Lee ended up building the suspended grid that holds all the cameras himself.
“We were an existing organization with existing infrastructure, and we had to make their technology work with what was in here first,” he explained.
Although the system features many cameras, Lee noted, customers shouldn’t be concerned about their privacy.
“It tracks the product and not you,” he explained. “The cameras are not following you. They do not care about who you individually are because there’s a lot of concerns behind it. You are a dot. If you think about a video game, that’s all it is. Your movement and your posture, that’s all it tracks. It does not care about who you are. It only cares about what you picked up or what you interacted with.”
Even with the new technology, Lee plans to keep all six of his team members on staff.
“We just repurposed them,” he added. “They are called our community engagement team members.”
Even though customers won’t have contact with team members at the checkout, he continued, they will be available for interaction, as needed. They will be greeting customers and helping them find the right products, Lee said.
“Because when we interact with somebody at a traditional (point of service) system, it’s postmortem,” he explained. “When we interact with somebody at the floor level, it’s literally like back in the day when you used to be able to go to the corner store and you used to walk in and say I need a bag of brown sugar.”
On top of traditional grocery store products, Community Groceries offers its own brand of Snacking Well single-serving fresh produce and healthy snacks.
“That’s where our motto came in, ‘We prep; You eat,’” he said.
Lee was inspired to start Snacking Well, he shared, after seeing so much produce being wasted, as well as enduring the challenge of weekly meal prepping for his family for years. He wanted to come up with something convenient, healthy, and affordable. Before opening Community Groceries, he sold his products out of refrigerated vending machines and the Crossroads Market location was his warehouse.
“When we decided to open up this particular location, the goal was to actually provide the community an avenue of having fresh produce and fresh vegetables and sell it by the serving and not by the pound,” he said. “So that way, you don’t have to worry about the cost behind it because it’s affordable.”
He noted Community Groceries also offers a Lifestyle Program, where for $24.99 a week, a customer is able to get 15 servings of snack packs, food packs, nuts, and fruits.
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