Whole Foods Isn’t Amazon’s Only Secret Project It’s Been Working On
Yes, Amazon bought Whole Foods. But, the big purchase is merely another piece in the Amazon empire.
It’s hard to understate the impact Amazon has had on American life. At one time, it was merely a website where you could order books, bypassing a trip to a bookstore. But over the past 15 or so years, the company has transformed into a business behemoth and the go-to retailer for millions of shoppers around the world. And Amazon has become more than just a retailer — it’s also a film and entertainment provider and a delivery service.
That’s really just scratching the surface, too. The company is also throwing resources at some moonshot ideas, such as drone delivery and mobile 3-D printing. Needless to say, Amazon has taken the American business world by storm and isn’t showing any signs of slowing down.
Its user base has continued to grow, as well. We know it now has more than 65 million Prime users, and that led to $136 billion in revenue in 2016. Amazon has resources and a vast number of customers. And with a slew of new projects and experiments, it’s aiming at increasing its reach.
That’s evident in Seattle, the company’s hometown. The city has become ground zero for all kinds of experimentation, including in the brick-and-mortar area. I live in Seattle and recently took a trip around the city to check out some of the new and interesting things the company is working on. From grocery pickup to the grab-and-go store with no checkout lines, here are examples of how Amazon is continuing to evolve from the screen to the streets.
The AmazonFresh pickup storefront
Our first stop is to a brand new AmazonFresh pickup store, located in Seattle’s Sodo neighborhood. The storefront itself is actually located in a portion of Starbucks’ headquarters. The Fresh brand is a grocery delivery service, but these new physical locations offer a place to pick up your orders and take them home.
The storefront isn’t open yet to the general public, but it appears it’s close. Once it does open, you’ll need to place an order 15 minutes before arriving for pickup. But the storefront isn’t the only option for getting your groceries.
Drive-up pickup in Sodo
In the parking lot, within feet of the storefront, is another pickup option: the drive-up. This is one of two drive-up pickup locations the company has built in Seattle, with this one located in the parking lot of the Starbucks Center in Sodo. The image above shows the walkway that leads from the storefront across a driveway to the drive-up area. Can you imagine yourself picking up Amazon groceries at a place like this in your neighborhood?
This service is reserved for Prime members, and when you use the service, you’ll need to reserve a time to pick up your order — again, at least 15 minutes in advance.
Now, a quick drive to another part of town to check out the other drive-up location.
Drive-up Fresh pickup in Ballard
If you’re headed into the Ballard neighborhood from downtown, you’re likely to see this sign peeking up at you from the right-hand side. Once you get closer, you’ll see another new AmazonFresh drive-up location, only a couple of blocks away from a Safeway and Trader Joe’s.
Here is the front of the store, which has a small area for walk-ups and several stalls for cars to pull into while picking up orders.
This shot shows the driveway, with stalls for cars. Below, you can see the exit.
Groceries, of course, are only a small part of Amazon’s strategy map. Another one of its projects, which has now launched in other cities, brings us back to the company’s roots.
You might have heard Amazon opened a physical bookstore. This was the first one, located in the U-Village shopping center near the University of Washington. These shots show the store from the front during a quiet weekday morning.
The shot below shows the same store from the side. As mentioned, the bookstore concept has proven to be successful, and these stores can now be found in many cities across the country. But what do they look like inside?
Inside Amazon Books
On the inside, Amazon Books looks more or less like any other bookstore. It’s basically a Barnes & Noble with a splash of Apple-store-layout. As you can see in the shot below, there are numerous Amazon-branded gadgets for sale, including Kindles, Fire TV, and the Echo.
So how is the store different from any other bookstore? For starters, it has a smaller selection of titles. And all of the books are arranged on the shelves with their covers facing the customer.
It seems counterintuitive for an internet retailer to dip into the brick-and-mortar world. Maybe we can cross our fingers for a Netflix video store. Next up, we head downtown to one of the most interesting corporate headquarters concepts you’ll ever see.
These are The Spheres, two giant glass balls located in the middle of downtown Seattle. Flanked on each side by two skyscrapers (also part of the Amazon headquarters complex) The Spheres will enclose green spaces, retail locations, and more when complete.
Above is a banner hanging on one of the chain-link fences surrounding the construction area. They plan to include a play field, retail, and public plaza in the $4 billion building.
In this close-up shot, you can see some trees and foliage already present within The Spheres. Below, a view from directly across the street gives a sense of scale. Notice how The Spheres relate in size to the truck in the foreground.
As mentioned, The Spheres are adjacent to two larger Amazon skyscrapers. On the ground floor of one of them, you’ll find another Amazon project that’s gained a lot of attention.
Amazon Go Store
You probably saw some of the videos and pictures of the Go store when it was first announced. The concept is the store has no employees and no checkout lines. You simply grab what you want and walk out with it. Amazon handles the rest, in terms of ringing you up and taking care of the payment procedures.
The shots above and below show the entrance to the store. The general public is still not allowed in, as it’s evidently still in “beta” mode.
As you walk along the sidewalk (seen below) toward the store’s entrance, cooks and chefs can be seen in the windows preparing fresh food for sale. You can also see advertisements proclaiming the Amazon Go concept — “no lines,” “no checkout,” and “just walk out.”
We’ll have to wait and see whether the Go store becomes a success and is emulated in other cities across the country. For now, only employees get to check it out. But there’s one more Amazonian experiment lurking the streets of Seattle people outside of the city might be completely unaware of.
The Treasure Truck
That’s right, it’s the Treasure Truck. What the hell is a Treasure Truck? It’s a truck that drives around the city, making predetermined stops with one specially priced product on board at a time. You’ll get an alert via the Amazon app that the truck is making the rounds and what it has on board. You’re then given the option to buy and pick a location to meet it.
Here’s the Treasure Truck from the front. And in the photo below, you can see some of the artwork that adorns its left side. The other side is where the “treasure” is dispensed.
Below, you can see customers picking up their orders. On the left, you’ll see a “get the goods” sign, where the boxes are shot out to waiting employees. They will then scan your phone to fulfill your order and hand you your treasure.
What kind of deals can you expect?
Treasure Truck spoils
My visit to the Treasure Truck got me a Guac Box. Basically, I paid $16 (somewhat steep, but whatever) for a bag of chips and box full of produce with which to make guacamole. The box (seen below) contained eight avocados, a red onion, garlic, and cilantro. And yes, those are Amazon-brand tortilla chips — good luck finding them in a store. All told, it was pretty good.