“A MISSED OPPORTUNITY WHEN CONSIDERED IN THE CONTEXT OF THE BRAND’S RECENT BOLDER ACTIVITIES”
The ever-expanding, $3bn profit-making monolith that is Amazon could be the brand most likely to cause unrest among competing retailers, and increase the challenges faced by retail designers such as ourselves. With continuing talk of the ‘death of physical retail’, and with many retailers feeling the squeeze of competition with regards to convenience and technological advances, we were keen to see how Amazon’s latest foray into bricks and mortar spaces stands up against the rest of the high street’s innovators.
To understand the relevance, and the success (or not) of this recent Amazon pop-up we need to compare it against their previous activities in real-world retail.
AMAZON AND THE ‘POP-UP’
One consistency among Amazon’s previous pop-ups is that many are partnerships. Opening pop-ups in collaboration with other brands has several benefits for Amazon; they can extend their reach to new audiences, and there are learnings to be adopted from partners’ established brick-and-mortar success.
Partnering with another fashion focussed brand could have been a route to connecting with the trend-savvy London audience, offering a legitimacy to the fashion offer that was not apparent in the pop-up. For example, one successful apparel pop-up was the 2017 Christmas pairing with Calvin Klein. The fashion house having joined with Amazon to deliver an exclusive line available online, complemented by an immersive pop-up experience. This pop-up showcased far more technology than the London event, featuring Echo speakers in fitting rooms, allowing visitors to ask questions about product, choose more flattering lighting, and play music. The event also used the Echo paired with video screens in a ‘lounge’ zone linked to a simultaneous pop-up in LA - promoting their technology as a source of communal fun. It was a tangible expression of commitment to using new technology, for a more consumer-centric experience.
Closer to home, last winter the Home of Black Friday appeared in London. Technically a “shopping experience” rather than a shop, because while visitors were able to interact with everything in the store, none of it was purchasable. This element of tactility is apparent in the new pop-up, but with the benefit of ‘take it home’ as an option. The improvement shown in the new pop-up is that of an integrated offer. Making browsing the store’s entire curated range seamless with tablets, or customers’ own devices offers the benefits of convenience and speed from digital shopping, elevated with tangible product display.
AMAZON AND PERMANENT STORES
While these innovative pop-ups and new concepts have gained much press, there is more ambition to Amazon’s physical portfolio than straightforward publicity; by enabling consumers to interact with the brand outside their usual experience, in real-world contexts, they’re creating powerful and engaging experiences.
With this in mind, Amazon have expanded into a number of permanent retail spaces in the past 12 months, allowing them to focus more on ‘why’ they do what they do and ‘how’ they do it, whilst striving to deliver this story in ever more captivating ways.
The flagship of this activity is the Amazon 4-Star concept- a physical manifestation of the website and everything that’s popular and trending. It is the brand’s first physical location that attempts to match the website’s breadth of sectors, and uses data captured to select appropriate product for the locality and demographic of the store. The store layout and messaging are designed to feel like a physical replica of the e-commerce giant’s online offering with details such as leveraging customer reviews and bringing online mechanism into the physical store.
Amazon’s much-heralded convenience store of the future- Amazon Go- has received many differing responses, but despite accusations that the model removes valuable employment opportunities, and further reduces human contact for a modern society already struggling to maintain connections between people, the company plans to open as many as six more of these store-fronts this year. Amazon is hoping that by making convenience store trips even faster, it will raise the bar for brick-and-mortar shopping in much the same way that Amazon Prime did for online shopping and delivery.
AMAZON POP-UP, LONDON 2018
So, does the newest Amazon physical retail space offer advances upon their existing bricks-and-mortar offers? The answer is- not as much as it should. The store feels like a missed opportunity when compared to the highlights of its other recent endeavours.
The space, labelled as the first Amazon store of its kind in Europe, had been garnering much attention in the retail press ahead of opening, and was described by the brand as, “a big learning experience for us to understand how Amazon fashion translates in physical retail”. Potentially herein is the core of the problem: too much focus on post-project learnings potentially resulting in too little consideration of customer’s needs or wants to be able to provide depth to the actual experience.
The overarching offer of the store is for fashion and lifestyle product with the stock scheduled to change every other day in a nod to a demand for newness required by the prevailing ‘drop culture’, but whilst there is admirable innovation here, the editorial thinking behind the selection of brands on offer feels disconnected. There is a mix of Amazon own labels, plus luxury American mega-brands and U.K. fast fashion - a good selection on a paper as regards reaching the widest market cover but one that could very easily be interpreted as a random mix that satisfies no-one in particular.
Technologically, the store is relatively simplistic bearing in mind the brand’s ground-breaking forays into physical retail that have been made with the recent Amazon Go stores mentioned. The display tablets work smoothly and allow for easy browsing, but nothing note-worthy to cause immediate reason for being in store rather than doing this at home. Most underwhelming of all is that to gauge responses to the experience shoppers would be asked to fill out a questionnaire rather than any other method of metrics analysis that could be at the brand’s disposal.
The largest issue with the in-store offer is that it doesn’t feel focused on the customer, but rather on serving Amazon’s data gathering to enable better solutions in the future, leaving present customers with little of innovation to celebrate. The denim customization is the only aspect of true ‘added value’ and whilst evening events are a positive addition, with all the data Amazon has at its disposal it seems like a missed opportunity not to be including real-time trends, or more significant personalisation.
When considering aesthetic and visual direction, the store doesn’t make a strong statement here either. The space is stark and utilitarian, with the focus being on providing a framework that is as flexible as possible. Clean white metal structures with wire grids provide a plain palette against which to showcase the varying product groups selected for each day’s launch, perhaps echoing the basic backdrop of the website.
There is a concession to creating visual appeal in an illuminated ‘smile’ bench encouraging Instagram snaps and sharing; and a window catwalk area where you could try out potential purchases to be photographed by friends in a faux studio set up, under the puzzled gaze of passing Baker Street workers. Both fall short of the mark in terms of real attraction to interact.
There is also a definite miss-step here in terms of overall visual direction. Whilst the space must retain some flexibility for functional requirements, it feels without personality. With a relatively narrow product range (fashion, cosmetics, some electronics and home-wares), and a target demographic that is equally focussed, choosing and executing an aesthetic language that would satisfy the functional needs as well as being more visually appealing to the customer would have been an adjustment to the proposal that would have paid huge dividends by creating a more inviting space.
Defining the store environment with the visual language of modern ‘lifestyle’ brands would have elevated the space above a simple utilitarian presentation of product and perhaps disguised the lack of engagement that made the experience feel lacking real connection to the customer.
THE FINAL WORD
The thriving brands of the future are those that are continually focusing more on ‘why’ they do what they do as well as ‘how’ they do it. With customers now defined by attitude, not attributes, they’re free to shop wherever they want, whenever they want, benefiting from pricing wars, and competition for increasing convenience and speed.
When online brands occupy real estate, they need to elevate their offer and customer’s opinion of their proposition with a truly immersive concept.
Whilst they are making in-roads into the fashion market and whilst the pop-up serves the function of bringing their own fashion brands to the customer’s attention, Amazon still has to build its reputation as being a place for fashion consumers and be able to set itself apart with a real point of difference.
In failing to utilise their vast data stores to target locality customers more clearly, and without exhibiting any learnings from previous successful activations, such as Treasure Truck, they fail to deliver an experience that really connects.
“TOO MUCH FOCUS ON POST-PROJECT LEARNINGS, RESULTING IN A LACK OF REAL THOUGHT AS TO THE CUSTOMER’S NEEDS”