If You Build an Amazon Treasure Truck, People Will Come
I still remember the grand entrance Jeff Bezos made to deliver his keynote address at Retail Systems, way back in 2003. The founder and CEO of Amazon made quite a splash as he glided up the aisle on a Segway to the front of the McCormick Place hall in Chicago. Back then, the Segway was not a household name (launched for sale to the public in late 2002 — on Amazon.com), nor was Amazon. At that time, the latter was also not a name to strike fear into the hearts of retailers, although it should have been. Because even back then, Amazon was always about technology, and never about a specific product, even though most people who knew the company at that time thought of it as an online bookstore.
During his presentation, Bezos said that technology is the key to driving everything from customer service to the delivery experience. Giving options to consumers — such as the choice to have product delivered or to pick it up in the store, which he advised retailers to offer — is an important part of making them happy, he said.
Bezos also dispelled some of what he said were myths surrounding e-commerce. One of those was that “core skills and competencies are the same for online and brick-and-mortar retailers.”
In reality, he said, “location, location, location” is crucial for brick-and-mortar retailers. This is not a factor online. In reality, he said, it is impossible to personalize the physical store experience for every customer, but this can be done for online shoppers.
Reflecting upon these statements now, some 14 years later, makes clear how much retail has changed since then. Because, given how retail has evolved, Bezos’ comments are both true and not true. Yes, location is not a factor online, except when, say, you’re trying to encourage BOPIS via an in-store coupon, so that maybe you can add some additional items to that customer’s basket when she comes into the store to get her online-ordered goodies. As for the second point, well, we now can personalize the physical store experience for every consumer — by combining it with digital in-store. Back in 2003, people weren’t walking around with smartphones 24/7, nor did e-commerce make up 11.7 percent of retail sales.
Bezos’ comments are also interesting to contemplate when you consider one of Amazon’s most recent announcements: that it will expand nationally the “Treasure Truck” experiment it originally piloted in Seattle. If you haven’t yet heard about Amazon’s Treasure Truck, this is how it works: Amazon picks one of its “favorite new trending, local or delicious items” (or maybe something it’s overstocked?), loads the entire truck with that product, and then cruises around town, “spreading joy for everyone with a smartphone and an appetite for fun.” Think of it as an ice-cream truck for adults, except you’ve placed your order in advance.
This is a brand new hybrid retail model that hits all the sweet spots — part e-commerce, part physical store, part delivery, part marketing, part entertainment. Amazon’s Treasure Truck is fun and flashy, and prompts customers not only to get their goods but also to pose for selfies in front of the truck. It brings the physical store to a customer’s home or neighborhood, turning the idea of “location, location, location” completely on its head. (Given Amazon’s recent purchase of Whole Foods, I wouldn’t be surprised to learn about a tie-in to that brand down the line, with Treasure Trucks finding their way to that retailer’s parking lots.)
What’s the takeaway from all of this? In all of its offerings, ranging from in-home virtual assistants such as Alexa to its new Treasure Trucks, from its in-your-neighborhood Whole Foods chain to its “smart home” consultants who will come to your home to help with tech, Amazon is getting closer and closer to the consumer, both emotionally and physically.
Jordan K. Speer is editor in chief of Apparel.