retail news in context, analysis with attitude

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Hi, Kevin Coupe here and this is FaceTime with the Content Guy.

While I was taking time off during the holidays, I decided to do something that I’d not had the opportunity to do before vacation - I went into New York City to visit the new Amazon 4 Star store, where everything they sell, across a wide variety of categories, has been rated with four or more stars in this particular section of downtown Manhattan. While we’ve had numerous reports about it on MNB, I hadn’t had the chance to see it personally because of my travel schedule.

So, we took the train into the city on a cold but crisp winter day to see it … as well as have lunch with relatives in Chinatown and visit the 9-11 memorial downtown. A full day, doing things we hadn’t done before.

(A brief digression here. I found the 9-11 memorial toi be deeply moving, especially when we found the name of a friend and neighbor who was killed while working in the World Trade Center. For some reason, though, the memorial does not evoke the same sort of solemnity among visitors as, say the Vietnam Wall in Washington, DC … people are laughing and taking selfies, and you;’d never see that in DC. I’m not sure why this is so, but I am sure I found it unnerving.)

I felt much the same way about the Amazon 4 Star store as Kate did when she wrote about it before the holidays. It is sort of a mess, like an upscale flea market with a good selection and, I must admit, a lot of shoppers. But there seemed to be no unifying theme to the store, which kind of bothered me … though I admit that I may make the trip to the 4 Star store next year before I go to the annual Coupe family Yankee Swap; it is designed for just such an event.

One thing that did strike me as fascinating was the extent to which Amazon is using the store to market its Amazon basic private label products. I didn’t know, for example, that Amazon sells a pretty fair facsimile of Le Creuset cast iron Dutch ovens under its Basics brand; I found it online after visiting the store, but didn’t know about it until visiting the bricks-and-mortar unit. It says something, I think, about both Amazon’s online and physical approaches.

After leaving the store, though, I began to think that maybe there is, after all, a unifying theme - “We’re Amazon, and we can do whatever we want.”

I don’t mean that to be as obnoxious as it sounds. I began to think about all the malls around the country that are suffering from too little traffic and retailers doing too few sales. It occurred to me that Amazon could reach out to all of them and offer to build pop-up versions of the 4-Star store in vacant space in the malls (of which there is much), and market it aggressively in local markets … and all the malls have to do is provide free space in exchange for a likely traffic generator.

Amazon could do that. Because it can. And in doing so, it can learn a lot about shopper preferences, how they can be influenced, and about the intersection between digital and bricks-and-mortar retailing.

That’s the unifying theme, and in some ways, it should concern anyone competing with Amazon.

That’s what is on my mind this morning. As always - in this new year, and in any year - I want to hear what is on your mind.

KC's View: