Amazon is introducing the American tradition of Black Friday shopping to London’s Soho district through a pop-up store opening from Nov. 17 to Nov. 26, according to a company press release.
Amazon is calling attention to its role in shaping the U.K. holiday season by calling the pop-up "Home of Black Friday."
At the pop-up store, Amazon will showcase its devices and the benefits of Prime, according to Planet Retail RNG Director of Retail Insights Natalie Berg, who is based in London. The shop is also offering salon services, she told Retail Dive in an email.
There was a time in the U.S. when holiday pop-ups were a major portion of Amazon’s brick-and-mortar play — but now they’re been dwarfed by the expansion of its bookstores and, of course, its acquisition of roughly 460 Whole Foods grocery stores.
In that context, Amazon’s London pop-up represents its need for more brick-and-mortar in the U.K., Berg said. Its Whole Foods stores are both smaller and fewer in number than in the U.S. And more broadly, pure-play e-commerce is becoming a thing of the past, said Berg, who in 2015 raised eyebrows with the prediction that it would cease to exist within five years. That appears to be coming true — Amazon is just the most high profile of once online-only retailers moving into brick and mortar in the U.S. and the U.K., where Missguided, Boden and Birchbox have all opened physical locations.
"E-commerce on its own is less special these days," she said. "I’d argue that we’ll see the death of pure-play e-commerce before the death of the store."
The rapid breakdown of boundaries between on and offline shopping, accelerated by mobile, fulfillment advances and a "shift in retailer mentality" is actually underscoring the importance of stores. "Retailers are finally recognizing that shoppers are device- and channel-agnostic," Berg said. "As those boundaries continue to blur, retailers without a physical store presence are actually beginning to look somewhat vulnerable."
Amazon's new holiday pop-up — plus its U.K. pickup locations and the relatively meager number of U.K. Whole Foods locations (where Amazon has been unable to create Alexa showrooms) — is not going to cut it for a brick-and-mortar presence in the country, Berg said. Amazon is likely to partner with brick-and-mortar stalwarts there, she added, in a similar way to its agreement with Kohl’s in the U.S. That has invited surprise, which in some quarters is edged with scorn, though analysts that approve of the tie-up note the potential it has to drive up Kohl's store traffic.
"Longer-term, it would make sense for Amazon to team up with a department store retailer like [Marks and Spencer] or Debenhams for a more formal collection and returns arrangement, and I imagine they would also be keen to partner with John Lewis or Dixons Carphone for Alexa showrooms," she said. "2018 will be the year that more British retailers cozy up to Amazon, particularly if it helps to drive traffic to stores or improve the customer experience. The dual role of competitor and service provider is truly unique to Amazon."