retail news in context, analysis with attitude

by Kevin Coupe

And what the hell is a Treasure Truck, you may ask?

Well, according to news reports, it is a large boxy Amazon truck driving around the streets of Seattle.

CNet writes that "There's little information on what exactly this truck (or trucks?) is, though a Web page on Amazon.com provides a few tiny clues. The Seattle-based online retailer says the Treasure Truck is will be 'coming soon' in Seattle and it will be tied in with Amazon's mobile shopping app.

"The Treasure Truck also has a Twitter account (naturally, @treasuretruck). It has yet to tweet anything but the bio box says: 'Hello Seattle, Treasure Truck is on its way'."

GeekWire reports that "it is an obvious promotional stunt given that the company has already set up a Twitter handle and Facebook page for the truck. It also just released a YouTube video, with a description saying that the truck will be part of the 'Amazon Mobile Shopping app you may already have on your mobile phone'.

"On the mobile app, there is a setting that allows users to 'Enable Treasure Truck.' You can also text the word 'truck' to the number 292966 to get more information, but that text just resulted in an automated response that said 'Amazon Treasure Truck is coming to Seattle!' and then directed users to this web site that had little information."

So what's the betting here?

One sure thing - it won't be carrying Confederate flags.

People far smarter than I think that it could be a promotional application of Amazon's “anticipatory shipping” patent, and that the treasure truck just “shows up” with a product that you likely want.

Which would be pretty cool.

Whatever it is ... it is a pretty good bet that it'll be an Eye-Opener.

UPDATE: Time reports that the Treasure Truck, in fact, is designed to "set up shop somewhere in Seattle—that’s the only location, for now at least—and offer a single item for sale. The goods will run the gamut of merchandise sold by Amazon."

The story goes on to say that "Amazon doesn’t seem to expect all that many customers to walk up to the truck and impulsively buy inflatable paddleboards or steaks like they might pick up a fish taco or a Sno-Cone. Instead, the idea is that people will use Amazon’s mobile shopping app to scope out where the truck is and what’s for sale that day, and then purchase and pick it up later."

It isn't easier than ordering for home delivery ... but it is designed to generate some excitement by offering really low prices. For example, Time writes, "the item on sale on Saturday, the Solstice Bali inflatable paddleboard set, is priced at $99 on the Treasure Truck, nearly 80% lower than the retail price of $477. Another item coming soon, the Firmstrong Beach Cruiser bicycle, will be priced at $99 too. Amazon says the list price of this item is $299, but it looks like the bike is sold fairly regularly for around $200. "

It seems to me that this is a perfectly legitimate way to get some buzz going ... but that Amazon has to be selective about how it uses the truck and rigorous about the deals. The minute either becomes routine, the magic will be lost, and nobody will care.

And that isn't a good thing for any retailer.

KC's View: