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Amazon Uses UK as Testing Ground for Brick-and-Mortar Formats

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Slowly but surely Amazon is taking its brick-and-mortar act “across the pond,” opening several different types of physical stores in the UK. It appears the ecommerce giant is using these brick-and-mortar locations primarily for consumer and market testing purposes, but Amazon has released little data about plans or timetables for additional openings.

Closer to home, Amazon is reportedly planning to open department stores in the U.S. The Wall Street Journal reported last month that Amazon is considering developing a network of full-sized stores in the U.S. carrying clothes, electronics and more. Sources told WSJ that the stores will be approximately 30,000 square feet, with the first stores opening in California and Ohio.

Amazon’s latest UK debut is its first Amazon 4-star store, which opened earlier in October offering housewares, books, games, electronics and toys. The Kent location is the first of these stores outside the U.S.; the name reflects that the inventory is comprised of items that are given 4-star ratings from customers. Items in the store will change regularly based on customer feedback and product introductions.

Andy Jones, the director of Amazon 4-star UK, told The Guardian that the company had been working on this UK outlet since before the coronavirus pandemic. “We are obviously just really keen now to get customers in and see what they think,” Jones said. “We’ve seen that the model has worked really well in malls in the US.”

Currently, Amazon operates a few dozen convenience stores and bookstores in the UK.

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Amazon opened its first physical store outside of North America in west London in March 2021. While it’s labeled Amazon Fresh, the store more closely resembles the Amazon Go cashierless outlets that started popping up in the U.S. beginning three years ago. These Amazon Go stores feature groceries and prepared foods and utilize the company’s “just walk out” technology.

There are currently six Amazon Fresh stores open in London. Matt Birch, director of Amazon Fresh Stores, declined to say how many of the stores the company planned to open: “We’ll open a few across London, testing and learning how we get the best reaction,” he told the Financial Times. “We may also look at some city center locations.”

Amazon already operates at least seven Whole Foods stores in the UK, the Financial Times reported.

The company also is testing the service establishment waters in the UK. Amazon opened a hair salon in London in April 2021 equipped with high-tech mirrors to show customers how they would look in different hairstyles.

This first UK Amazon Salon is 1,500 square feet on two floors. Customers can experiment with different virtual hair colors using augmented reality (AR) technology, enjoy entertainment on Fire tablets at each styling station and capture their new look in a dedicated creative area.

The salon will be an experiential venue where the company showcases new products and technology, but there are no current plans to open any other Amazon Salon locations. “We want this unique venue to bring us one step closer to customers, and it will be a place where we can collaborate with the industry and test new technologies,” said John Boumphrey, UK Country Manager in a statement.

Amazon opened its first Click and Mortar pop-up shop pilot program in Sheffield in 2019, offering a physical location where small, previously online-only businesses could offer a variety of products to customers. The concept eventually expanded to 10 pop-up shops in Wales, Scotland, the Midlands and Yorkshire.

In 2018, Amazon tested the UK fashion waters with a London pop-up shop, where it questioned shoppers on their clothing preferences. In 2017, Amazon opened a guerrilla store in London for a Black Friday sales event.

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