Amazon has opened its first non-food store at the Bluewater shopping centre near Dartford in Kent. Called Amazon 4-Star as it sells only products that have had four star reviews, the shop will also be used for click and collect.
Offering everything from books, consumer electronics, toys and games to homeware, it is designed to reflect what Amazon customers are buying online. Digital price tags are used to ensure the prices are the same in-store and online. Shoppers don’t need to have an Amazon account to use it.
Customers will also be able to collect items ordered online as well as return items without the need for packaging and labels, says Andy Jones, director f Amazon 4-Star in the UK.
Amazon has declined to say how many stores it plans to open in the UK, but it currently has 30 in the US.
The move comes as the retailer has been widely criticised for ‘killing the high street’ and, while some industry experts see the move as a positive for physical retail, others see it as more of a threat.
Florence Wright, Senior Retail Insight Analyst at Edge by Ascential, says: “Amazon shows no sign of slowing down in the UK market, and its latest Amazon 4 star stores is another example of its ambitions to cement a spot on the UK high street, with 6 checkoutless grocery stores now in operation, in addition to its first Hair Salon. Amazon’s 4-star model is notable for bringing online trends and data into a physical store setting, which serves to further engage shoppers in the Amazon ecosystem. What is interesting about this move is that it aims to be a showroom of products, where ranges change regularly and are chosen based on customer reviews and product launches. It is a logical decision for Amazon, given its vast inventory, but we must remember that Amazon’s expertise lies in ecommerce, and therefore it needs to think carefully about how it designs stores as its brand alone may not be enough to draw in shoppers.”
She continues: “There is no doubt that an Amazon store will be geared up with the latest technology to create a frictionless experience, but there are other key characteristics it should consider to create a store of the future model, so that the in-store experience is exciting for consumers. This includes experiential elements to educate and inspire, through to creating a social element to foster connections with shoppers and give them a reason to keep returning.”
However, retail expert Natalie Berg told the BBC that the Amazon move “is purely about experimentation”. The giant’s aim, she said, is to encourage more online shopping.
“This is not about shifting more product; it’s about baiting shoppers into Amazon’s ecosystem, it’s about getting shoppers to engage with Amazon’s devices, reminding Prime customers of the value in their memberships, and offering additional choice when it comes to collection and returns of online orders,” she warned.
Hugh Fletcher, Global Head of Consultancy and Innovation at Wunderman Thompson Commerce, is more sanguine. “What’s clear is that Amazon is not messing around when it comes to bricks-and-mortar,” he says. “Lauded as a potential stunt and an opportunity to drive uptake in Prime, it’s more likely that Amazon is doing what it does best and tends to win out on; challenging the status quo. And these stores in particular are deliberately inclusive to all, where Prime membership and even an Amazon account are not pre-requisites to shop there. With a quarter of spend in the UK already through Amazon and nearly two thirds of consumers excited by the prospect of buying everything through one retailer, Amazon is tapping into a consumer mindset that is increasingly loyal to service, rather than brand. So as long as the Amazon 4-stars offer the same level of price, service and efficiency as it does online, it’s hard to look past these stores as another feather in an already crowded cap.”