Amazon is going physical: can they reinvent the department store?
Do you remember the department stores? These acreage behemoths that anchor malls across the country, the homes of iconic store brands inviting you to shop for everything from shoes and clothing to luggage and furniture.
But the retail business is finnicky. Businesses need to predict what consumers will want to buy next spring and summer, even if the fall season has yet to begin. The way we shop has also changed dramatically, pushing the traditional model of department stores to the fringes. Digital now dominates; we shop on apps and Instagram, shop online and collect in-store rather than spending hours browsing the many floors of a Macy’s M or Nordstrom JWN.
The department store niche has also seen great causalities over the past decade. A favorite of the famous and avant-garde, Barney’s closed its doors for good in 2019, while compatriot Neiman Marcus and JCPenney both filed for bankruptcy last year. Lord & Taylor, which was founded in 1826, was resurrected earlier in 2021 and now works only online.
So when I heard the news that Amazon AMZN would plan to test their own department store concept, I was surprised but not shocked. Amazon’s bookstores have certainly been a hit – whenever I’m in Chicago’s Southport corridor, I always stop and end up buying two or three books – so it seems fitting that Amazon is trying to reinvent another experience. of brick and mortar (and one he played a direct and indirect hand in making a relic of the past).
The stores will be approximately 30,000 square feet in size and will focus on products such as clothing, housewares and electronics; it is similar to the size of a typical Kohl KSS or TJ Maxx TJX shop. And according to the the Wall Street newspaper, Amazon started approaching American clothing brands about a full-scale store a few years ago, showing us that investing in brick-and-mortar retail is constantly on its mind.
We can also trace Amazon’s desire to dip its toes into physical retailing to its explosive acquisition of Whole Foods Market, and from there, to opening Amazon Go convenience stores, branded grocery stores. and the bookstores mentioned above. Department stores appear to be a natural evolution of the company’s long-term retail goals.
There is also another, simpler explanation for all of this: People like stores, and Amazon, for all of its digital innovation, understands it. You can buy new jeans without having to order six different pairs and return the ones that don’t fit; you can sit on a new sofa or armchair, making sure the fabric is to your liking; you can try a new perfume or a new makeup product; but most importantly, you can leave a store and immediately have whatever you want. Instant gratification will always be better than free two-day delivery.
Amazon has irrevocably changed our behavior as consumers, and in the future, they will continue to set the standards for how we shop (whether we like it or not). Their new approach to the department store is sure to make waves, and I bet it’ll be adopted in no time.
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