Sunday, November 11, 2018

FIRST PEEK: Amazon 4-Star Store

This week Amazon opened a new 4-Star store (its third one ever) in Berkeley, CA, and I just had to check it out! Readers of my blog know I'm a big Amazon fan =)

The 4-Star store is located on 4th Street, a cute little commercial strip in west Berkeley that includes big retailers, such as Apple Store, Sur la Table, Z Gallerie, as well as local merchants and eateries. The 4-Star store actually replaced a Crate & Barrel Outlet I liked that closed earlier this year.

Amazon 4-Star Store, Berkeley
If you haven't heard of 4-Star stores, it's different than Amazon Go cashierless stores. 4-Star stores are manned by real people and you can check out at a normal register counter. They appear targeted towards consumers who don't want to wait for delivery, have security concerns with packages left at their doorsteps, or just want to physically see and touch a product, so they prefer to buy from a physical store.

Also, as the name implies, all the items are rated 4 stars or higher, as well as items that are new or trending based on what Amazon's website knows about shopping patterns in the surrounding area. A store employee told me inventory will constantly change based on local preferences and sales data. Yay, BIG data!!!

The store stocks hundreds, maybe 1000s, of products, ranging from books, toys & games, kitchen appliances and gadgets, home goods, consumer electronics, and of course, Amazon-branded Echo, Kindle, and Fire TV devices.

Inside Amazon 4-Star Store, Berkeley
I liked a section called Amazon Launchpad that featured products from start-ups. I actually saw the Rocketbook I bought for a friend's gift last year here.

Amazon Launchpad section
I have mixed feelings about the store layout. While it was semi-organized by department with big signage, such as "Devices and Electronics" and "Home and Kitchen," there was also lots of random stuff on tables in the middle of the store. While this created a sense of discovery, much like what has made discount stores like TJ Maxx or Ross popular, at times it felt cluttered and overwhelming.

I was really impressed by the dynamic price tags or "shelf talkers". It makes sense these are dynamic because an item's price and ratings are update regularly and I presume Amazon has to reuse these tags from the revolving inventory of items stocked in the store. The price tags are very easy to read and appear to be based on the same e-ink technology from their Kindle reader.

Dynamic Price Tag (a.k.a. "Shelf Talker")

The price tag often has 2 prices: a "regular" price and a lower price for Amazon Prime members. I was told non-Prime customers can sign up for a free 30-day trial and instantly receive the Prime price in-store.

I thought the bar codes on the left side of the price tags would allow me to scan the bar code with my Amazon mobile app to learn more about the product online, such as product details and actual reviews. But it didn't work when I tried it on a few items. So I don't think that is the intent of these bar codes, but IT SHOULD BE!

As you might expect, you can drop off Amazon returns here for free. But just know that you still have to initiate the return process online first and pick this location as a drop-off location. You can't just walk in like a traditional retail store with your receipt and expect them to process it for you in-store.

It would be cool if the Amazon site or app could check the 4-Star store's inventory and allow for store pickup if it knew I was near this store.  This would be similar to how traditional brick-and-mortar stores, such as Best Buy, Target, and Barnes & Noble, let you order online and pickup at a local store. But when I tried to do this from my Amazon app, it did not even show the new 4-Star store as a location for pickup (see below). Even if it was listed, it's not actually the same customer experience as these traditional retailers who are actually picking the product off the shelf in a specific store by searching its inventory management system. Amazon still says it will be available for pickup at your chosen pickup location in a few days, which makes me think it's still being shipped from its nearby warehouse. So much for instant gratification.

Where is the Amazon 4-Star Store on 4th Street in its App?

Overall, I liked the 4-Star store and can see myself coming back during the holidays for gift ideas because I like how it's curated. Or if I need to pop in for some cable or Amazon Essentials product. And I do like touching and feeling some products before buying. It's convenient especially for playing with the consumer electronics, which aren't just on display, but are actually connected so you can really test them out.

Happy Shopping!!!


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