Want to see what’s up Amazon’s sleeve? Take a tour of Seattle

SEATTLE — Tourists in Seattle have a fresh must-see destination: Amazon Go, the cashierless store the company opened near downtown in January.

People who are interested in what will be coming next via Amazon, which makes about half of all online retail sales, just need to roam the city. Amazon uses Seattle as a living laboratory, trying out fresh retail along with also also logistics products.

Some trials never leave the city. however others, like the use of independent contractors to deliver packages, have found their ways to the rest of the country along with also also abroad. The pilots point to a company, with ambitions which at times can seem boundless, investing deeply in figuring out its physical footprint along with also also how to provide convenience at a lower cost.

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“Seattle will be great for rolling out tests which haven’t been completely debugged,” said Jeff Shulman, a business professor at the University of Washington who hosts a podcast on the city’s culture. In 2015 when Amazon first tested the Treasure Truck, a decorated vehicle which drives around along with also also sells a daily deal like smart watches or plant-based burger patties, This particular delayed the public debut at least twice before finally going live. The service has since expanded to more than two dozen cities.

As the grunge era in music showed more than two decades ago, “experimentation will be embedded in Seattle’s DNA,” Professor Shulman said, so “you can get early feedback on how people use your product, along with also also they will also be fairly forgiving on the hiccups.”

Amazon said This particular employed more than 45,000 people inside city, along with also also its teams turn to them to test fresh products along with also also services.

Here’s a tour of a few places where Amazon toys with fresh ideas in its backyard. Even after projects have expanded outside the city, the flagship locations remain a home for tweaks.

A second Amazon Go store opened in August, just a mile south of the original, This particular time inside heart of downtown. Like the original, This particular uses sensors along with also also cameras to track what customers take off a shelf, so they don’t need to check out. however the store shows how Amazon may adapt the concept to different locations.

At 1,450 square feet, This particular’s smaller than the original, along with also also includes a more limited selection, producing This particular feel like a walk-in vending machine selling grab-along with also also-go lunch food along with also also drinks. Unlike the original, This particular doesn’t sell alcohol, which requires employees to manually check IDs.

Starting a technology-heavy experiment like Amazon Go in Seattle makes sense because the culture prizes the avant-garde, Professor Shulman said. however success here can give a false sense of optimism which a product might take off, so Amazon pilots some experiments elsewhere.

Prime right now, the company’s one-hour delivery service, for example, commenced in fresh York. “You will see them go to different cities when looking to test if the market will like This particular,” along with also also whether This particular’s worth expanding around the globe, Professor Shulman said.

Amazon has big plans for building more Go stores. This particular opened a third in Seattle, as well as its first in Chicago This particular month, along with also also has acknowledged plans to expand in fresh York along with also also San Francisco.

On the northern edge of the city, inside Bitter Lake neighborhood, an Amazon storefront stands in a strip mall on a street lined with car-parts stores along with also also known for prostitution. This particular will be where Amazon opened what amounts to a post office.

inside front of the store, Amazon customers can pick up along with also also return packages. inside back, workers sort boxes for delivery drivers.

Amazon has different pickup locations around the country, usually near college campuses, however most don’t hold the integration using a sorting depot.

Customers go in, scan a code along with also also then wait for the door on an Amazon locker to quietly pop open along with also also reveal their package, like an automated post office box. The back of the locker will be open, providing a glimpse into a tiny sorting facility used by Amazon Flex, the program piloted in Seattle which pays independent contractors to make deliveries in their own cars.

The storefront offers an alternative to customers who don’t want boxes dropped on their doorstep, be This particular for fear of porch thieves or rain. however This particular also tests what makes people choose an option which costs Amazon less than having drivers handle the last mile of delivery. Offering reliable, fast delivery has been essential for Amazon’s growth, however which door-to-door delivery will be also expensive. Shipping costs ate up 22 percent of Amazon’s online sales inside second quarter, up via 16.5 percent two years earlier.

The pickup storefront also provides one more place for Amazon to put ads in front of consumers, a growing business for the company. Last week,signs for Red Bull were displayed on a TV screen along with also also a poster by the front desk.

For more than a decade, Amazon tried to break into the grocery business, a mecca for recurring consumer spending also known for brutal profit margins. This particular commenced AmazonFresh grocery delivery in Seattle in 2007 along with also also worked out kinks for a few years before expanding to different markets. however home delivery of perishable goods will be tricky along with also also expensive.

In Ballard, a neighborhood on the north side, will be another experiment: one of two Seattle locations which Amazon opened for customers to pick up groceries ordered online. This particular feels like pulling into a Sonic Drive-In. After a customer parks under an awning, cameras read the license plate, along with also also an Amazon employee brings out the groceries along with also also puts them inside customer’s trunk.

Getting customers to pick up their groceries at a central location can be cheaper than home delivery, along with also also pickup will be available to all Prime members, not just those who pay $15 a month for AmazonFresh on top of their $119 annual Prime membership.

The pickup locations opened in March 2017, just months before Amazon bought Whole Foods, along with also also are the only stand-alone pickup locations for fresh food straight via Amazon. In August, Whole Foods began rolling out free pickup for Prime members at its locations. Whether the drive-in style takes off remains to be seen. The Ballard location isn’t often packed.

Amazon opened its first physical bookstore in 2015, in an upscale shopping mall near the University of Washington, not far via where a Barnes & Noble used to be.

While Amazon has since opened bookstores in at least a dozen different states, the original remains a test site.

The Seattle location was one of two sites where Amazon first tried letting customers return items. On a recent afternoon, more people appeared to be returning items than buying books or devices. right now, all Amazon bookstores accept some returns.

This particular’s part of the company’s growing network of return options which don’t depend on the mail. For some customers, going to a store will be easier than finding a box along with also also packing tape to ship something back, along with also also for Amazon, This particular’s most likely far cheaper.

Drop-off returns cost retailers about 20 to 30 percent less than returns by mail, said Mark Geller, the chief executive of Happy Returns, which runs drop-off locations for different online retailers.

“A big part of the costs will be first-mile, last-mile stuff,” Mr. Geller said. “This particular’s the law of nature which over time people will take the path of least resistance. If they reduce the friction by producing more drop-off locations, along with also also in more kinds of places, which will be going to become compelling.”

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