The Secret Marketer: Amazon’s foray into a physical store could undermine what made it a success

The death of the high street has been predicted for many years – from the arrival of the first out-of-town retail parks to the current digital revolution. Whether it’s First Direct or Direct Line, eBay or Asos, or aggregators such as MoneySupermarket.com, uSwitch.com and Just-Eat.co.uk – these brands’ success is evidence that consumers are comfortable transacting without seeing the goods they are buying.

While this is exciting, removes barriers of entry for entrepreneurs and introduces true 24/7 customer service, it does raise concerns for the thousands of bricks-and-mortar outlets that have kept us busy on Saturday afternoons for generations.

I was therefore intrigued to find that the brand which could be called the daddy of the ecommerce revolution – Amazon – is set to open its first store. It confirms my suspicion that far from being over, shops, and indeed high streets, are a necessary part of the service that consumers expect.

Although Amazon’s first physical branch is in Manhattan, in the shadow of the Empire State Building, I think two things can be taken for granted – it won’t be like normal stores and, if successful, more will quickly follow.

Amazon going corporeal is also great news for us marketers because while the retailer set out to compete solely on price, this new development confirms the other three (if not six) ‘Ps’ in the mix. High street retailers are fighting back with the kind of service only shops can bring – stock immediacy, personal advice, colour and size verification, which no online retailer can do in quite the same way. And although Amazon and others have tried with same-day deliveries and click/collect/return, the benefits of a physical shop are just too attractive to ignore.

It’s also great news for those who value the high street. Ebay already delivers click-and-collect orders to Argos stores; the supermarkets have played with a multichannel model, and even online retailer Oakfurnitureland.co.uk has showrooms where its furniture can be seen and touched before shoppers buy. These are all signs that the high street store still has a relevant part to play.

But I wonder how Amazon will reconcile expensive property costs with a model built on offering the lowest customer price. Add in the vagaries of human beings, versus the clinical automation of Amazon’s traditional approach, and its leap into the physical world could prove to be a harsh reality check and undermine what made it a success in the first place.

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