Commentary

Amazon 4-Star Shop In Manhattan Features Its Top-Rated Merchandise

Products looking for shelf space in Amazon's latest concept store need not apply unless they have earned at least four stars from consumers in Amazon’s online rankings. Indeed, that rarefied qualification is embedded in its name: Amazon 4-Star.

The sealing tape was ripped off the first such venture yesterday and, well, it turns out there are some exceptions. It also has “new and ‘trending’ items and best-sellers regardless of review score,” Chris Welch writes for The Verge

Of course it does. The store is on Spring Street in Manhattan’s SoHo district, after all. But the average rating of all the products is 4.4 stars, according to an Amazon blog post, “and collectively, the products in store have earned more than 1.8 million 5-star customer reviews.”

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And don’t worry. The hyperbolic accolades are there, too.

“Throughout, shoppers will also find ... cards that display quotes from customer reviews,” writesBGR’s Andy Meek. 

“The product assortment includes everything from the card game Codenames, which boasts a 4.8-star rating from more than 2,000 customer reviews; a Lodge 3.5-inch Cast Iron Mini Skillet, with more than 10,900 reviews for a 4.4-star rating; and, of course, Amazon’s own products like the Echo Spot and the Fire TV Stick, which boast 4.5-star and 4.4-star ratings, respectively,” Meek continues.

“Inside the 4,000-square-foot space, a Most-Wished-For section has products that people often put on their Amazon wish lists, like baby blue Fujifilm instant cameras. A section called Trending Around NYC showcases products popular in the city. The assortment in the latter category was all over the map, featuring the book Crazy Rich Asians, bottles of Gorilla Super Glue and a cast-iron skillet,” writes Kaya Yurieff for CNN Tech.

(If you’re as curious as I am, here’s the link to the cast-iron skillet, which is $3.97 online.)

“Why is the world's largest online seller testing out all these store ideas?” asks CNET’s Ben Fox Rubin. “It probably wants to figure out how to get you to shop in its physical stores -- along with its online site -- so it can bring in even more customers. Today, only about 10% of retail sales happen online, so moving to physical stores could offer a huge benefit for Amazon in the long run. Also, storefronts like 4-star can help Amazon show off its own electronics so people can test them out before buying them -- something you can't do in a website.”

Still, there are some “yeah, but” reactions, too.

“The vast selection could work well to attract customers for the novelty of the store, according to retail industry consultants. But most stores establish a customer base through an established core group of products customers know they can rely on,” point out Khadeeja Safdar and Laura Stevens for the Wall Street Journal.

“You don’t go to Michaels to buy groceries,” Elaine Kwon, founder of e-commerce management and software firm Kwontified and a former Amazon manager, tells them.

“What we’re trying to do here is invent something that we think is unique and different for customers and ultimately gives them more choice,” says Cameron Janes, Amazon’s vice president of physical retail, telling Safdar and Stevens that the store is “set up for discovery.” 

“The first crop of customers says Amazon got it mostly right,” reports  Megan Cerullo for the New York Daily News -- even if it’s in a backhand-compliment sort of way.

“Craig Cappozzo, who owns a consulting business, popped into the store on his way to the airport after a business trip to New York City. ‘I am a Prime member and I love to understand disruptive ideas and I love Amazon’s business model generally so obviously it’s really interesting to me to see them going backwards,’ he said of Amazon opening a brick-and-mortar store,” Cerullo writes.

“An Amazon spokeswoman said the store is permanent, not a pop-up location, as some of its shops -- including one that sold Calvin Klein merchandise in SoHo last year -- have been before,” writes CNBC’s Lauren Thomas. She also reminds us that “just last week, it was reported Amazon was considering opening as many as 3,000 cashier-less convenience stores across the U.S. by 2020.”

That report, by Bloomberg’s Spencer Soper and based on interviews with “people familiar with the matter,” suggested that the new AmazonGo cashierless stores “would threaten convenience chains like 7-Eleven Inc., quick-service sandwich shops like Subway and Panera Bread, and mom-and-pop pizzerias and taco trucks.”

Before you know it, they’ll be coming after my granddaughter’s 5-star lemonade stand.

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