Can you take e-commerce offline? Ask Alexa and Amazon.

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Hello boys and girls, ladies and gentlemen,

One of the hot topics I lecture on is e-commerce, physical stores and the combination of both. The usual way this is done by companies and brands is that they have a store and then absolutely must expand into e-commerce, making sure they are available to customers through all sorts of digital and mobile devices.

But can this work the other way around? Can a pure-play retailer (only selling via e-commerce and with a business model entirely devoted to it) take its business offline?

The world’s pioneer of e-commerce Amazon has done just that. The infamous inventor of Alexa was once famous for being an on-line bookstore and a few decades later this bookstore is now a physical store. What’s highly interesting is how the digital gimmicks of ratings or purchase suggestions have been turned back into brick-and-mortar. Although I usually write about fashion, art, Japan and textiles, I want to direct your attention to books, in this case. It’s a great example for any e-business, including e-tailers like ASOS or Net-a-Porter and Zalando who all might consider a brick & mortar store (and not just a pop-up store which they open from time to time).

Below I am re-posting an excerpt of an insightful article by Anne-Marie Kovacs and her blog “As a Consumer.” Enjoy and click on the link to read it in full if you fancy!

 

“[…] The shopping experience at Amazon Books, the physical store

I walked into Amazon Books in Chicago’s Lakeview neighborhood last month. This was the company’s fifth physical store. At 6,000 square feet with only 3,800 titles on display, it’s definitely not a bookstore on the scale of the mega Barnes & Noble or Borders bookstores of lore. It’s “small” but the whole product selection is curated – with guidance from Amazon’s top ratings and product popularity – to feature only top selling favorite products. Add Amazon’s tweaks and “secret sauce” to the traditional bookstore model and it made for a very enjoyable shopping experience.

 

Amazon Store in Southport Corridor of Lakeview neighborhood, Chicago

 

Book display Amazon Books store

Reviews and ratings

Amazon Bookstore reviews and ratings

Each book presented here has been deemed worthy of taking up shelf space. That’s because any book in the store has a rating of at least 4 out of 5. There is also a chosen reader’s review is featured on the review card that is displayed with each book. As is a barcode that customers can scan to get more information. As a consumer, I’m comforted to know that every book in the store has been vetted by hundreds – thousands? – of readers and should provide a satisfying, if not captivating read.

Visual cues

If you like youll love feature in the Amazonbooks store

I particularly enjoyed the “If you like {_____}, you’ll love {_____}” feature. A visual, immediately accessible way to find other books in a similar theme, style or category.  

Reading prompts and local interest

Amazon Books endcaps

The endcaps each feature different compelling reading “themes” such as the geo-relevant “Fiction Top Sellers in Chicago”, the take-it-on “100 Books to Read in a Lifetime”, addictive “Page Turners” and “Highly Rated” books in various categories. The books throughout the store are all placed face up. This take up a lot of real estate but it does make the selection easily scannable and shoppable.

Mobile enabled and encouraged

Using the Amazon app in the store

Amazon knows exactly how consumers shop today: always with a phone in hand, ready to “showroom” and search for reviews, coupons, opinions… It’s probably pointless to “showroom” in the Amazon store since, as we know, Amazon is the usual showrooming reference when we shop elsewhere.

The Amazon Books store encourages customers to use their app, not for showrooming, but to see the item’s price, additional recommendations and information on the Amazon.com site itself. The Amazon app (incidentally categorized under “Essentials” in iTunes) is quite fun to use in the store. Click on the app’s camera icon and it will scan pretty much any object (you can use it anywhere! Try it on any object where you are now) and provides eerily accurate search results within seconds. It found my Macbook right away when I was revisiting the app at home…

Prices are not marked on any of store items. In what we can guess is an attempt to onboard new Amazon Prime customers, existing Amazon Prime members get Prime pricing (which fluctuates constantly, so it can’t be listed) as opposed to the higher “list price” for non-Prime people. I don’t know anyone who’s not a Prime member. Do you? I bet only a minority of customers here actually pay MSRP. Anyhoo, if you don’t have the app, there are plenty of “scanning stations” throughout the store that can be used to get all the item’s info.

Electronics demystified

Amazon Books store - electronics section

Innovative electronic gadgets are not always an easy sell. We often need to see them in action to convince us to take the leap and purchase. The electronics display seen here, paired with competent and enthusiastic sales associates, make the sale a lot easier: easily understood product descriptions, customer reviews, samples to play with and salespeople available to ask questions to. This is the model needed to break through that customer hesitancy barrier. […]”