Row over ‘underhanded’ approach derails Amazon Fresh store opening 

The Mall in Upper Street 

The Mall in Upper Street - Credit: Andre Langlois

The opening of a new Amazon Fresh store in Upper Street has hit a bump in the road, after councillors accused the company of seeking a licence to sell alcohol “in a rather underhanded manner.”

Amazon, which is launching a number of such stores across the country operating with till-less Just Walk Out Technology in which visitors pay for their goods through an app, had initially applied for the alcohol licence through a company named British Overseas Bank Nominees Ltd M & G Property.

This proved a problem for councillors, with Cllr Martin Klute initially writing in to criticise the application as “curiously opaque,” and the Town Hall’s licensing committee subsequently deferring the application. It was deferred on the basis that the police and environmental health would not have had full sight of the type of store the company was intending to open ahead of the deadline for submitting any concerns they might have.

Cllr Phil Graham said: “The manner in which this has all been presented to the responsible authorities, the licensing team and the police, who all have direct responsibility over policing anywhere that supplies alcohol in Islington, it seems to have been presented in a rather under handed manner.

“I think proceeding at this time may be to the detriment of our licensing policy, seeing as all the responsible authorities, especially the police, have not been given sufficient time to see the complete proposal in front of us. 

“Proposals arriving in dribs and drabs as and when an applicant sees fit and post conditions being agreed is not a very good way of doing business. 

"I’m quite surprised a company the size of Amazon and the fingers in the many pies that they have could not see this for themselves.”

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Barrister Gary Grant, representing Amazon, initially insisted that “there has been no attempt to mislead anyone and nobody was misled,” arguing that the only fact about the store on which the police had not been informed was the fact that it was an Amazon Fresh, rather than a Tesco Extra or Sainsbury’s Local.

He added: “It was suggested that offshore companies were involved, but none were involved. The applicants are all UK registered companies. You will find their Companies House printouts within the additional papers submitted by the applicant. 

“There is a simple reason why Amazon Fresh did not name themselves, and that is the application was submitted prior to the entire concept being launched in the UK.

"It was subject to commercial confidentiality clauses. That is why they were not named until they were launched. 

“As soon as they did, the police and environmental health were informed on March 9, and it made no difference to their representations or the conditions.

"The only thing that has happened since then is that Amazon and the landlord have offered further conditions and restrictions.

"An adjournment would serve no purpose other than a delay which would serve no one’s benefit.”

Councillors argued back that it was not simply the name of the store on which they were keen to give police a say, but the non-traditional “operating manner,” which will see a store without checkouts or security lines, with a supervisor posted at the gate to a small alcohol display area and three members of staff on hand for crowd control.

In response to quizzing on the model from councillors, Grant responded: “You’re absolutely right. It is not like other stores.

"It is far more secure than other stores, because unlike any other store, you cannot wander in off the street or gain immediate entry without supervision and wander around. There are far more controls here than in the competitor stores of a similar nature.”

Mr Grant went on to change tack, voicing his understanding for “the angst this has caused,” and acknowledging the concerns that the police and environmental health would not have had a chance to make a submission on the “novel concept” of just walk out technology.

After both councillors and Amazon representatives put their separate heads together in break-out rooms to decide a course of action, it was decided that police and environmental health will now be contacted to - as Mr Grant put it - “inform them precisely what is going to happen and ask them if this makes any difference and if so what difference.

The hearing is set to be reconvened in early May.