business news in context, analysis with attitude

by Kevin Coupe

I had the chance the other day to visit the Woodland Hills location of the new Amazon grocery store that is scheduled to be opened next year, one in a chain of undisclosed format but with ambitions that are no doubt considerable.

All we know about the store at the moment is what it won't be - it won't be a Whole Foods, with the implication being that it will be less hifalutin in terms of merchandise and price. And it won't employ Amazon Go-style checkout-free technology, which means that there will be lines at the checkouts. (At least if all goes well. In this case, no lines will mean no business, which is most assuredly not what Amazon has in mind.)

Having visited the store location, which was guarded by a lone security person who looked up occasionally from his magazine to eye me suspiciously as I walked around taking pictures, I'd like to make two observations.

One is that while there is a main front door, off to the right there is a much smaller door (which you can see in the pictures below) off to the right that, unless I miss my guess, is likely to serve some sort of e-commerce function. It could be for click and collect, or it could be for delivery … but this Amazon store (or whatever it is going to be called) is almost certainly is going to build part of the company's secret sauce into the format.

I'd still love to see how Amazon would offer some sort of replenishment service in a bricks-and-mortar format … a physical rendering of its hugely popular Subscribe & Save business. But Jeff Bezos hasn't called lately asking for advice, though I'm happy to proffer it at any time.

My second observation is both more ironic and more situational.

This new Amazon bricks-and-mortar format is located across the street from the Promenade, a sizable mall with anchor tenants such as Macy's, Barnes & Noble and Dick's Sporting Goods. (In the more distant past, it also hosted retail names like Saks, Robinson's, Bullock's, and I. Magnin.)

Except that this shopping center is what is referred to as a "dead mall" - virtually shuttered, with no active retail, awaiting the various approvals that will be needed to knock the place down and turn it into a mixed-use development that will house some retail, some office space, and some residential. (To be fair, the Promenade isn't completely dead. It still has an AMC multiplex. But that's pretty much it.)

It seems almost funny to me that we have Amazon putting in a bricks-and-mortar format across the street from brick-and-mortar that is more like dashed hopes and dreams … especially since it is the likes of Amazon that put such places into declined and, in this case, virtual obsolescence.

Maybe "funny" is the wrong word. Though it certainly is an Eye-Opener about the past, the present, and an uncertain future.

KC's View: