The everything store is going offline.
Amazon will open its first-ever brick-and-mortar site in Manhattan over the holidays, according to the Wall Street Journal, in the storied--and well-trafficked--space at 7 West 34th Street, across from the Empire State Building.
As one would expect, the space will serve as a "mini-warehouse with limited inventory for same-day delivery within the city, product returns and exchanges, and pickups of online orders," reports the WSJ. Beyond that, the location is all about "marketing the Amazon brand," Matt Nemer, a Wells Fargo analyst told the paper. "Same-day delivery, ordering online and picking up in store are ideas that are really catching on."
If rumors are true, Amazon may turn it into a retail space as well.
As Rent the Runway's co-founder and head of business development Jennifer Fleiss explained at a recent panel, going offline provides an opportunity to sync online data with offline experiences in a useful way. Knowing a customers' size, style, and habits can really soup up the in-store experience, allowing the company to "pre-curate dresses, suggest items to take home or purchase later, and send them links to their updated profile," for example. With its forays into fashion and groceries, the retail space could give Amazon an edge for local customers.
Also, some shoppers simply need guidance that a website can't provide. Technology can be baffling, while others need help navigating shoe sizes. If Amazon is as intent on showcasing inventory as the Journal reports, it can't hurt to have some salespeople on hand to explain the Kindle e-readers or Fire TV set-top box.
"Customers need to touch the products and put them in the context of their lives," said Katia Beauchamp, co-founder of Birchbox, another e-commerce brand that opted to open a store in SoHo in July. Physical showrooms allow for precisely that opportunity, while also helping Amazon gather important data on how consumers shop in real-time. As Warby Parker co-founder Neil Blumenthal told Inc., one of the best parts of bringing customers into his home was giving them a rare opportunity to "peek behind the curtain" of his startup while getting immediate feedback.
Moving offline can also draw sales, as evidenced by New York-based clothing store Bonobos. According to chief executive Andy Dunn, customers who order from the physical store spend almost twice as much as online shoppers.
Of course, time will tell how the space helps the company. As Forrester Research e-commerce analyst Sucharita Mulpuru told Fortune, "they need to figure out what resonates with shoppers with respect to Amazon in a physical store. Do they want to look at product/ Do they just want to pick up product?" The answer may be none of the above.