Crowd DNA New York's Eden Lauffer ventured to the Amazon 4-Star store, a new concept launched in SoHo, to check out how this omnipresent brand is seeking to bridge the online and offline...

The last year has seen the likes of Toys ‘R’ Us, Sports Authority and Brookstone either downsized or closed for good. There are myriad factors behind their economic woes – but the strong presence of online retailers, backed up by reviews and cheaper prices, is a big one. The main culprit: Amazon.

A 2018 NPR study found that 67 per cent of American online shoppers trust Amazon “quite a lot.” Consumers are even willing to go as far as to let Amazon deliver packages directly into their homes via Amazon Key. So what does a brick-and-mortar store offer consumers that Amazon can’t offer them online?

The 4-Star offer

Planted in a high traffic area of SoHo, Amazon’s 4-Star store sits in the vicinity of the Marc Jacobs headquarters and the MoMa Design Store – a sign of how Amazon seeks to position its new offering. The pitch: a collection of best-selling items, sold by Amazon, with (you guessed it) a four-star or above rating.

The store showcases a strange mix of products, where reusable lunch bags sit beside limited edition Chewbacca toys. Among all of the seemingly randomly placed Swell bottles and Flappy the Elephant toys, the store’s central focus is the electronics section. Within that section, the tables with Amazon products like Alexa and Kindle have ‘try me’ labels.

Bringing the online, offline

On the first table of merchandise proudly stands a ‘Most Wished For’ sign. Shelves and tables are labeled with typical Amazon categories – some with a local twist, such as ‘Top Selling Around NYC’. There’s even an offline version of Amazon’s recommended items, with products labeled “if you like this, you’ll also love this!”

Each item in the store has an electronic marker detailing that item’s current price, and its up-to-date four star rating. Many items have two prices – a discounted one for Prime members, and a full-price for the uninitiated – perhaps a sign of the future for Prime membership online, too.

A place for advice

Consumer trust in Amazon is furthered in the 4-Star store, especially in the the case of their own brand electronics that were formerly only available to try via purchase. Stores like GameStop and Apple give consumers a space to play with electronics and speak with experts before making a purchase. In the 4-Star store, employees are friendly and informed, instilling confidence in shoppers’ purchase decisions.

Making your city feel smaller

While Amazon is teeming with reviews both raving and scathing, consumers have no way of knowing who these reviewers are. In the 4-Star store, signs like ‘Top Selling Around NYC’ make fellow shoppers feel within reach. The NYC specific tables also come equipped with actual user quotes about several of the products, whether it’s superglue, a power strip, or a hot new book.

New York can be isolating, but with a view like this of what those around you are doing, the city feels warmer and more inviting. For example, on the ‘Trending Around NYC’ table, shopper quotes discussed the values of a hand vacuum, something particularly relevant for small New York apartments.

The verdict

The store does an excellent job of bringing the Amazon experience offline. Yet, finding specific products is likely easier online, and the strange mix of products in the store means it lacks a clear focus. However, with our world barreling in the direction of online only, an attempt at building community between shoppers seems like a nice gesture – considering Amazon’s leading role in the ever-changing retail landscape.