NEW YORK (MainStreet) – Amazon has led the way in showing that companies don’t need a physical store to become a retail giant. So the news that Amazon is considering opening up a bricks-and-mortar retail store this year might come as a huge surprise to many shoppers. According to reports, the first store will open up in Seattle – home of the company’s corporate headquarters – and will focus on the retailer’s various mobile devices and accessories.
Amazon isn’t alone in making the jump into the real world, either. According to one report, the company has filed a planning application in Ireland to open a storefront in Dublin to sell unspecified merchandise.
So why should two companies that have built multi-billion dollar empires on the Internet suddenly express interest in the real world? As with much that happens in the tech world, they may be following Apple’s lead.
“My best guess is that it’s a big push due to Apple,” says Mickey Klein, head of the consumer team for global investment firm The Astor Group. “What consumers are getting there is a good touchy-feely experience, and [Amazon and Google] want to have boutique-type stores for customer to come in and have a real personal experience.”
That influence hints at what consumers can expect to see from the Web giants. While everyone talks about Amazon’s competition with Barnes & Noble, it’s unlikely that we’ll see Amazon open a massive book store to compete in that space. Rather, analysts say, the Amazon Store will likely be used as a showcase of sorts, aimed at consumers who want to try out the Kindle or Kindle Fire in person before they buy it.
“They’re not going to be warehouse stores, they’re going to be a showcase for digital media products like the Kindle, the Kindle Fire and, we think, smartphones and smart TVs down the road,” says Shawn Milne, an analyst for Janney Montgomery Scott. “I would envision them showing products, but not keeping anywhere near the level of inventory you see in most retail stores. “
Google, meanwhile, is likely to take a similar approach. Its local planning application reportedly calls for a store that’s about 1,300 square feet, even smaller than a typical Apple Store, so don’t expect much more than a pretty showcase for its Android smartphones and tablets. But more than just showing off the products, both the Amazon and Google Stores may also be an experiment in brand-building, a gambit to see if they can associate themselves with the kind of top-notch, in-person customer service for which Apple has quickly become famous.
Klein says that such an effort is already underway with Google’s recent onslaught of cute commercials pushing its Chrome browser and associated products, and he thinks that the company would be wise to continue that effort by establishing Genius Bar levels of customer support.
“It’s done amazing wonders for Apple,” he says. “We have switched over half of our office computers to Macs because of the experience we got at the Apple Store.”
If Google and Amazon think they can inspire that kind of loyalty by hanging a shingle and putting a friendly face on their business, they’d be crazy not to try.