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Amazon's hiring spree could signal bigger physical store ambitions

As Amazon prepares to add 100,000 U.S. workers, one retail analyst says the hiring spree could indicate that it's ready to hit the accelerator on its physical store expansion.

In its announcement Thursday, Amazon said "many" of the roles it plans to fill will be in new fulfillment centers. It specifically outlined the addition of some 18,000 of jobs tied to these locations, in states from New Jersey to Texas.

Other roles will benefit areas like "cloud technology, machine learning and advanced logistics," CEO Jeff Bezos detailed. Yet for KeyBanc analyst Ed Yruma, that still leaves a "significant and unexplained gap."

"Based on what we know of the new [fulfillment center] road map and our view on higher automation ... we think it that it likely does not support more than 50,000-60,000 incremental jobs," Yruma wrote in a research note. "We believe that this could be explained by an accelerated rollout of physical stores. In particular, we think that a potential grocery pickup concept looks particularly promising."

Amazon had no further comment regarding how many of the jobs would support its growing bricks-and-mortar portfolio. The company currently employees 180,000 workers in the U.S.

A pedestrian passes in front of the new Amazon Go grocery store in Seattle.
David Ryder | Bloomberg | Getty Images
A pedestrian passes in front of the new Amazon Go grocery store in Seattle.

After years of speculation, Amazon is slowly lifting the lid on its plans for physical stores. The company will cut the ribbon on its first New York City bookstore this spring, making it one of five new locations slated to open. The retailer already operates one bookstore in the states of California, Oregon and Washington, respectively.

Last month, Amazon detailed plans to test a convenience store with no cash registers, called Amazon Go. Separate reports published before and after that announcement said Amazon might be working on a fleet of 2,000 physical grocery stores. An Amazon spokesperson in December denied those plans to CNBC, saying, "We have no plans to open 2,000 of anything. Not even close. We are still learning."

At Amazon's shareholder meeting last May, Bezos said the company would "definitely" open more physical stores, but the number was still up in the air.

The Amazon Go shop, which eliminates the cashier role, was slammed as "the end of jobs" by The New York Post.