By Nick WingfieldThe New York Times
SEATTLE — Iin Palm Springs, California, on a recent Sunday, Jeffrey P. Bezos, the chief executive of Amazon, climbed into the cockpit of a 13-foot robot and began flailing his arms as though warming up for a workout, causing the robotâ€™s enormous appendages to mimic his movement
â€œWhy do I feel so much like Sigourney Weaver?â€ Bezos said, referring to the actress who wore a mechanical suit in a climactic battle in the 1986 movie â€œAl
The intimate audience of entrepreneurs and academics attending an Amazon conference on robotics and artificial intelligence chuckled. Later, Bezos posted a photo on Twitter of himself in the suit with a more menacing air, the robotâ€™s arms raised as if about to deliver a bone-crushing bear hu
For years, retailers have been haunted by the thought of Amazon using its technological prowess to squeeze them into powder. That battle has mostly played out on Amazonâ€™s home turf, the world of online shoppin
But now the fight is coming directly to retailers on actual streets around the globe, where Amazon is slowly building a fleet of physical stores. And while most of the attention has been focused on Amazonâ€™s grocery store dreams, the company has a more ambitious collection of experiments underwa
If those experiments work — and there is no guarantee of that — they could have a profound influence on how other stores operate. Over time, they could also introduce new forms of automation, putting traditional retail jobs in jeopardy. At the same time, locating those stores close to customersâ€™ homes could also help Amazon further its ambitions of delivering internet orders within hour
Stores selling fridges with augmented reality
The company is exploring the idea of creating stores to sell furniture and home appliances like refrigerators — the kinds of products that shoppers are reluctant to buy over the internet sight unseen, said one of several people with knowledge of the discussions who, in conversations with The New York Times, spoke on condition of anonymity because the plans were confidential. The stores would serve as showcases where people could view the items in person, with orders being delivered to their homes.
These would not be your average Home Depots: Amazon has considered using forms of augmented or virtual reality to allow people to see how couches, stoves and credenzas will look in their homes, the person briefed on the discussions said.
Amazon is also kicking around an electronics-store concept similar to Appleâ€™s retail emporiums, according to two of the people familiar with the discussions. These shops would have a heavy emphasis on Amazon devices and services such as the companyâ€™s Echo smart home speaker and Prime Video streaming serv
And in groceries — a giant category in which Amazon has struggled — the company has opened a convenience store that does not need cashiers and it is close to opening two stores where drivers can quickly pick up groceries without leaving their cars, all in Seattle. It has explored another grocery store concept that could serve walk-in customers and act as a hub for home deliveries.
Overseas, Amazon is quietly targeting India for new brick-and-mortar grocery stores. It is a vast market, and one still largely dominated by traditional street bazaars where shoppers must wander from stall to stall haggling over prices and deliberating over unrefrigerated meat sitting in the dusty open air. Amazonâ€™s internal code name for its India grocery ambitions is Project Everes
Fifth bookstore but some ideas might be stillborn
Last week, Amazon opened its fifth physical bookstore in Chicago, and it has five more announced locations under construction.
It is possible that some of the store ideas will never see the light of day. Groups within Amazon are often encouraged to come up with zany initiatives (this is the company that popularized the idea of drone deliveries). Many ideas are chucked after deeper scrutiny by executives. Amazon declined to talk about any stores it has not announced publicly.
â€œWe are always thinking about new ways to serve customers, but thinking is different than planning,â€ said Drew Herdener, an Amazon spokes
Since the late â€˜90s, pundits have asked when Amazon — the company Bezos founded on the premise that people would rather shop from the comfort of their screens — would finally start building stores. But Amazon executives saw plenty of opportunities in online retail and new ways to reach people, from creating digital book-selling devices like Kindle to building up the Prime membership service for getting faster deliveries and other benefit
In 2012, Bezos told the television interviewer Charlie Rose that shoppers were already well served by existing retailers and that Amazon had no interest in a me-too effort.
â€œWe want to do something uniquely Amazon,â€ he said. â€œIf we can find that idea, and we havenâ€™t found it yet, but if we can find that idea, we would love to open physical
In-person shopping persists
Despite Amazonâ€™s internet retailing success, over time it has become clear that there is a lot of shopping that people prefer to do in person. The most glaring example is groceries — the mother of all shopping categories, with about $770 billion for the supermarkets represented by the…