As Amazon looks for more ways to sell everything to everyone, its latest experiment with physical stores borrows some of the company’s oldest online shopping inventions.
“If you like,” reads a sign with an arrow pointing to a book of cocktail recipes, then “you’ll love,” says its companion, that points to an ice-cube tray and set of bar tools on the shelf beside it.
The underlying idea of suggesting purchases to customers based on what they’ve bought previously was an early feature of Jeff Bezos’ online bookstore.
The 4-star store, which opens Thursday at the foot of Amazon’s newest corporate office tower on Westlake Avenue in the Denny Regrade, is a reference to another staple of Amazon’s online emporium: customer reviews. The approximately 2,000 items for sale in the store average at least four out of five stars from those who have purchased them, or have been selected because they are new or trending on Amazon’s website.
It adds to the company’s more than 25 brick-and-mortar stores, including its cashierless convenience stores and bookstores, as well as 503 Whole Foods Market locations.
The selection is a mix drawn from popular categories including personal electronics, gifts, books and toys.
A “Trending Around Seattle” table is devoted to items that are selling well online locally: volleyballs, a Lego Space Shuttle set, the book “Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men,” a Dungeons & Dragons role-playing game set and a portable fan.
Under each item is a digital price tag that updates as Amazon algorithms adjust pricing — usually by pennies — as many as five times a day, said Jeanine Takala, a company spokeswoman. The tags also show a lower price for Prime members, highlighting a benefit of Amazon’s $119-a-year shipping and digital-media service.
The Seattle store will not accept cash at first, though Amazon is transitioning to include that payment method at all its locations, Takala said. Around the country, the proliferation of cashless stores by Amazon and others prompted a backlash from activists and state and local lawmakers concerned about discrimination.
A significant chunk of the 4,000-square-foot store is a showcase for Google Chromebooks, which, like other electronics such as Amazon’s own line of voice-controlled devices and surveillance equipment, are out of the box for customers to try out. Companies pay Amazon for this premium placement — which will change every 60 to 90 days — just like they do to have their wares appear more prominently on the website, Takala said.
While data and technology underpin much of the 4-star store, the selection is refined and rotated by a team of human curators, she said. About 20 people will work at the store.
The 4-star store is the fourth of its kind, following the format’s debut in New York City last fall. Others are in Berkeley, California, and Lone Tree, Colorado. Amazon has confirmed a fifth location set to open in Dallas “and we do have plans to open more this year,” Takala said.
In addition to the store’s proximity to its headquarters campus, the Seattle location serves a part of the city that’s increasingly crowded — with Amazon workers and tourists — and popular for shopping, she said. The same stretch of Westlake is home to Starbucks’ Princi bakery concept, the vaunted Shake Shack burger joint, a forthcoming Sephora store and the new Urban Triangle Park, set to open late this summer.
Parking in the area can be tough, but Takala shared this pro tip: The garages beneath Amazon’s headquarters towers in the Denny Regrade are free after 4 p.m. until 2 a.m. the following day.