Amazon opens first UK bricks-and-mortar non-food store

Amazon is bolstering its UK high street presence with the opening of its first non-food physical shop offering its bestselling lines of books, electronics, toys, games and homeware.

The outlet, at the Bluewater shopping centre in Kent, is the online retailer’s first Amazon 4-star store outside the US and will use data from its website sales to judge which products are proving popular with local shoppers.

The range of products sold in the store will change regularly, with Amazon staff responding to customer feedback and new product releases.

Amazon opened its first 4-star store in New York in 2018. The concept gets it name from the idea that all of the goods sold there have been rated at least four stars out of five by shoppers.

The Bluewater store is Amazon’s latest venture into UK bricks-and-mortar retailing after a string of other recent trials, including a fashion pop-up shop, a till-less Amazon Fresh grocery store in west London, and even a hi-tech hair salon in the capital.

Andy Jones, the director of Amazon 4-star UK, said the company had been working on the UK outlet since before the coronavirus pandemic.

“We are obviously just really keen now to get customers in and see what they think,” Jones said. “We’ve seen that the model has worked really well in malls in the US, so a location like Bluewater made total sense to us.

“There are the Amazon products they will expect but also local products from small suppliers because that is a huge part of the Amazon business.”

The shop also includes displays of products from small business sellers, which are sold through Amazon’s marketplace operation.

However, Jones would not confirm whether the Bluewater outlet was an individual trial or whether more UK 4-star stores were planned.

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Richard Lim, the chief executive of consultancy Retail Economics, suggested the Bluewater store was a trial, with the retailer trying to gain more knowledge about customers’ behaviour.

“This is another attempt by Amazon to creep into physical retail space. I think, as far as Amazon is concerned, this is really just another opportunity to do some testing in the market,” Lim said.

“One of their key motivations and ambitions is to try to gain a much better understanding of how the physical and digital worlds interact. They understand how the digital world works but they don’t have much visibility over the physical world.”

Lim said that if Amazon did want to open a significant number of stores in the UK, it would do so through an acquisition of an existing high street retailer, as it did in the US when it bought the Whole Foods Market grocery chain in 2017.

“They don’t have a big presence in the UK but they do in the US. If they want to get into the market they are not messing around, they do a test and if they want to go on, a large-scale acquisition would give the best route,” he added.

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