Amazon, the behemoth e-tailer that reached $1 trillion market cap for the first time on Sept. 4, has been making a foray into retail. Its latest move is opening the first Amazon 4-Star store in Manhattan, New York on Thursday.
The store, in the Soho neighborhood, features top-selling and trending items rated four stars and above on Amazon.com, with popular products from categories that include devices, consumer electronics, kitchen, home, toys and books. The in-store products have collectively earned more than 1.8 million five-star customer reviews with an average of 4.4 stars (how reliable those reviews are is debatable of course) and the selection is curated by an internal team.
It had been open less than an hour when I arrived around 10:45 a.m., and it was already filled with curious shoppers. I wandered through the brightly lit aisles that felt like a display for Amazon's top-selling products, one where you can actually pick them up and touch them instead of just seeing them online, which is a brick-and-mortar perk.
Items were separated in categories like "Devices and Electronics," "Travel Essentials" and "Games and Puzzles," but also themed sections like "Most Wished For," "Hot Right Now," "Quirky Kitchen Gifts" and "Top Selling in N.Y.C.," which had items like a Nutribullet, a blender and nutrient extractor, and a Black & Decker portable vacuum.
As a fan of Amazon.com and an Amazon Prime member, I was eager to see what they were selling. But unfortunately, for me, "Top Selling" didn't necessarily translate to cool or interesting. Many of the products seemed to be things you could just as easily find at Target or Walmart.
There were exceptions though, and a favorite for me was probably the Smart Home Devices section. It had products like a WiFi light bulb that's brightness and even color can be controlled via Smartphone. (A quick Google later revealed Best Buy and others sell similar bulbs, but I had never seen them before.)
Plus, a cool feature of the store is that every item has a digital price tag with both the standard price and the Amazon Prime price for members, which updates if the price changes online. It also has the average star-rating and the total number of reviews received for the item.
Amazon 4-Star also sells branded items, like Amazon Basics, Amazon Home Decor and Amazon Kitchen. There are dog water bowls and frying pans, the things you never see in person when shopping online. The store also sells Amazon electronic products like Echo and Alexa, Fire tablets and the Fire TV Stick.
Amazon looks at pre-orders, sales, trends, customer reviews and ratings to determine what products make it into the store, according to a press release, and I thought they did a nice job of curating. But there was just too much to look at and there were too many sections, including many I didn't care about, like "Kids Tech," "Wizarding Wonders," "Baby" and "Office Supplies." That's the benefit of online — you can just type in and focus on exactly what you need. (Though consumers browsing things they don't need is probably part of the point of a store for Amazon.)
Still, there were fun gadgets and things here and there, and I ended up buying a milk and honey-scented Chesapeake Bay Candle for $19.99. (The store also had a tomato, bourbon and vodka candle I liked from a different brand that I'm not sure Walmart or Target would carry. But I didn't make the decision based on in-person smelling; I've purchased scented candles online before, and I chose this one because it was $25 cheaper.)
The store has cashiers for checkout (unlike Amazon Go stores), but it was a seamless transaction with the swipe of my credit card — the receipt went directly to my Amazon Prime account. I was also offered a free two-month membership to Audible, an Amazon-owned audiobook company (an offer which will continue at the store), but I declined.
The Soho location is the first 4-Star store for the retailer. Amazon also currently has Amazon Pop-Up, which allows customers to test Amazon devices, and Amazon Books in various locations throughout the U.S.
I haven't been to any other Amazon stores so it was cool to check out 4-Star, but I think I'll stick to shopping online.
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