November 8, 2018 – BERKELEY, Calif.
With the launch of the latest store, Amazon now has three Amazon 4-star retail locations in the United States. The second store opened last week in Lone Tree, Colorado, surprising consumers that expected the Berkeley, California location to open first. Engage3 took a trip to the opening last week to see it in person, and here are some of our observations.
The Amazon 4-star in Berkeley opened its doors on November 5th to a short line of people, but soon the store was full of shoppers and press eager to see the products available. In the weeks leading up to the launch, I had read comments from small businesses in the area expressing their concern, but seeing it in person made it clear that the 4-star experience is not directly competing with these business owners.
Online Goes Offline
Compared to Amazon’s other retail ventures, 4-star is fairly tame; the concept of the store is to offer well-reviewed products from the online site in a brick-and-mortar location. No tracking cameras are set up and no cashier-free checkout is offered, making the store more like a traditional retailer than a cutting-edge convenience store competitor (Business Insider). We were allowed to openly browse the selection of products once inside.
What makes the store unique is how it approaches brick-and-mortar selling. Customer reviews are the basis for which items are sold in the store; if something is for sale, it means a large amount of online customers enjoyed the product. Amazon 4-star is also localized to the surrounding area, displaying a selection of products popular with Berkeley customers. These curated collections are available in the Lone Tree and Manhattan as well, and we will likely see this trend continue as more stores open.
Aside from the tables lined with trending purchases, the majority of items in the store were hanging on the walls with little separation. As soon as I left the table area, the number of items became overwhelming and difficult to sort through. If found myself looking at the curated collections more than anything else, and the shoppers around me were doing the same.
Compared to looking for gifts on the Amazon site, the experience of looking through seemingly endless shelves felt lacking. The categories were clearly displayed, but I had no interest of going row by row to look for something specific. A large Roomba vacuum exhibit dominated the back half of the store where the electronics were kept, and few customers were venturing into that territory. Shoppers focused on the curated tables and book displays instead. The scene reminded me of another brick-and-mortar bookseller in a condensed format.
To recreate the online shopping experience, recommended and related items appeared next to each other throughout the store. Online reviews and short descriptions accompanied many of the store’s products, but these when afterthoughts when compared to the Amazon Prime integration.
Gifts and Presence
While I went through the store, I noticed that many products have two price points: one for Prime members and one for non-members. The e-ink displays clearly tell a shopper the online rating for the product and how much they are saving with their membership. Every item had an Electronic Shelf Label that the employees could change when necessary.
The labels caught my attention, because they displays the online rating and number of reviews. Amazon was meticulous on this point, making sure every single item in the store had a dynamic label.
Many shoppers and news outlets are comparing the 4-star experience to existing “everything under one roof” retailers. The store has even been called a Millennial Brookstone (Forbes). However, what sets Amazon apart from these retailers is a focus on membership and community interaction.
The Berkeley location seemed more welcoming than Amazon’s other physical stores, especially compared to Amazon Go. Most of the customers in the store were curious families and couples, and it is refreshing to see the online retailer focus on more than their usual tech-savvy demographic.
Overall, the Amazon 4-star favors a traditional layout over revolutionary tech. It shares a target demographic with the retailer’s convenience stores, but offers a more reserved shopping experience. Even though the store was overwhelming at times, it felt warmer and more human than any of Amazon’s previous brick-and-mortar attempts. With its wide product selection, I can see holiday shoppers close to these stores turning to 4-star for their gift-giving.