I’m an avid Amazon user, embarrassingly I probably order something at least once a week, and I can’t remember not having Amazon Prime!
As a true Millennial, Amazon Prime is the perfect answer to my desire to have everything on demand.
As all pioneering retailers do, they have also shaped my expectations of other retailers. My expectations are high, I now instantly expect the best prices and the best quality at a click of a button, with next day delivery and free returns as standard.
I associate Amazon with range, ease, and flexibility around me. So when I heard that Amazon were to open ten pop-up stores on UK highstreets I was intrigued and I was curious to see what their customer experience offline would be like.
Amazon is sponsoring pop-up shops across Britain over the next year to give a hundred small online-only brands a physical presence, in an attempt to improve its image on the high street. Doug Gurr, Amazon UK’s country manager, said: “Amazon is committed to supporting the growth of small businesses, helping them boost the economy and create jobs across the UK. Small businesses are one of our most important customer groups.”
To me this sounded more like a PR stunt than a store that generally had the consumers interests at heart, but I remained open minded and went to explore!
The Manchester store is located in the central retail district, and given the media hype and the fact that it was the opening day of the first store, I expected to see the street abuzz with people and cameras. Unfortunately, I actually walked past the shop twice before eventually finding it.
Named ‘Clicks and Mortar’ the store has avoided any associations with Amazon’s branding, but unfortunately doesn’t seem to have a stand out brand of their own. As I entered the store, the welcome was underwhelming with a few balloons in the corner, I found myself in an empty shell with around 10 different market stalls set up, each one manned by a representative from each company. There were very few customers in store and I was approached by a representative from Enterprise Nation, a small business support group, who have partnered with Amazon for this scheme.
I was informed that the pop-up allowed 10 online only stores a chance to sell in a physical premises face to face with their customer for 2 weeks, when another selection of companies would replace them.
Looking around, there seemed a random variety of stalls including everything from scented candles, scooters, phone cases and peanut butter. This lead to an atmosphere of confusion and the whole experience felt disjointed.
The in-store facilities themselves were underwhelming, with the only offering to consumers being a small drink dispenser with some coconut water inside. Whether it was intentional or not, this meant that the experience came from the individual stall owners themselves.
The most successful stalls were those offering customers a chance to experience the product in a way that they wouldn’t be able to do so online. Those selling items that required the senses, whether it was beauty products, candles or food items, really tapped into the ability to sell through the smell, touch and taste of the products.
Many stalls were offering free tasters and samples. Peanut butter on breadsticks, organic butter on sourdough bread, scented candles you could pick up and smells, moisturisers you could try for yourself. Products were there to be touched, picked up, played with and used.
The physical presence also enabled the sellers to communicate the story and passion behind their products in a way that was so much more impactful and persuasive than if you read some blurb on their webpage.
I learnt about how one gentleman’s dog had received a toxic shock from chemicals in a brand names air diffuser which inspired him to make naturally scented candles that were also environmentally friendly. With another stall owner I discussed the health benefits of beetroot ketchup and how it was invented simply from the need of someone to use up excess beetroot from their garden.
Despite this, I couldn’t help wondering whether these stalls would be better placed in a Sunday market or festival – rather than sandwiched between a stall selling headphones, and another selling leather phone cases.
Whilst some stores did create an atmosphere and a sensory experience for the customer, others just laid their wears on the table for consumers to browse – without offering much enticement or interaction with the consumer. So whilst I feel this concept may work well for certain products (namely those offering a sensory experience and thus a reason to interact with the product in person) for other products where personal touch is less important I can’t see the lure.
Part of Amazon’s vision is to help ‘empower businesses and content creators to maximise their success’. By partnering with networks like Enterprise Nation, Amazon is certainly attempting to do so by providing an opportunity for small online-only businesses to physically get in front of their customers.
I could see the benefits online-only retailers could gain from opportunities like this - one stall holder spoke of how they were using the initiative as a trial, and it was giving them the risk free opportunity to see whether setting up a physical store would be profitable.
Despite this, I can’t help questioning Amazon’s role in the scheme and couldn’t help feeling it was purely providing a PR function to oppose critics who claim that Amazon are ‘killing the high street’.
Returning back to Amazon’s vision, we can’t forget their core principle to be ‘Earth’s most customer centric company’ and to ‘raise the bar of the customer experience’. Unfortunately in this mission, Amazon’s ‘Clicks and Mortar’ didn’t quite succeed.
Whilst they may be king of e-commerce, Amazon seems to be naive to the fact that the fierce battleground of the high street has forced bricks and mortar retailers to up their game – namely in customer experience.
High street retailers need to offer something you can’t get online – and that is an experience. Across categories, we’ve seen many retailers responding to this insight. Women’s clothing stores now have pop up disco nights, cosmetic stores offer spa and beauty treatments. We’ve seen banks turn into café’s, and furniture stores holding sleepovers.
The world of customer experience on the high street is moving fast. It’s another world from e-commerce and Amazon need to up their game to compete in the competitive arena that is the UK high street.