Amazon will open 10 pop-up shops in a pilot programme designed to give online businesses a bricks-and-mortar presence, with no current plans for pop-up bookshops.
The online retail giant plans to open 10 "Clicks and Mortar" shops across the UK, with the first opening in St Mary's Gate in Manchester today. Other stores are planned for Wales, Scotland, the Midlands, Yorkshire and across the South East.
Customers can buy from more than 100 small businesses with stock including, homeware and health and beauty products as well as food and drink and electronics. The Bookseller understands there are currently no plans for bookshop pop-ups. Amazon already has a bricks-and-mortar presence in the US, including around 20 bookshops.
Waterstones m.d. James Daunt said the pop-up shops are not a concern, but warned if Amazon opened traditional bricks-and-mortar bookshops in the UK then he would be "alarmed".
"We've seen these pop-ups in the States and that in and of itself doesn't alarm me, but a full-on bookshop would, and I would not be complacent were they to decide to do that. In the US where they have opened bookstores, they have been in areas which are not served by bookshops, in the white space, with the exception of their New York shops," said Daunt. "My sleep would be somewhat disturbed if they opened bookshops."
Booksellers Association m.d. Meryl Halls said the project is unlikely "to make anyone believe that Amazon is the new BFF of Britain’s retailers".
Halls said: “However beneficent Amazon appear in this latest move, the fact remains that Amazon’s onslaught has hollowed out the UK’s high streets over the last 25 years, and halved the number of indie bookshops over the same period. They continue to benefit from a taxation system biased in their favour and not fit for purpose for high street retailers – and however apparently well-meaning this new project, it’s unlikely to make anyone believe that Amazon is the new BFF of Britain’s retailers.”
Retail analyst Nick Bubb said the programme is "a good PR stunt". He added: "It will help get across the help that they give to small businesses, but I doubt that books will be part of the offer."
Online businesses that will sell in a bricks-and-mortar store for the first time in the UK scheme include scooter company Swifty Scooters, suitcase brand Torro Cases and Altr for Men, which specialises in men's skincare. "The up-and-coming brands have all built successful online businesses and now want to explore physical retail for the first time," said Amazon.
The year-long pilot, launched with Enterprise Nation and Direct Line for Business and Square, "will explore a new model to help online businesses experience the high street, as well as highlighting the benefits of combining in-store and online retail," said Amazon. According to the ONS, whilst online sales are growing at a fast rate, bricks and mortar sales still account for nearly 82% of sales in the UK.
Independent research on the success of the pilot will be submitted to the government, in response to the call for new ideas to develop the Future High Streets strategy.
Doug Gurr, UK country manager, Amazon, said small business are one of the company's most important customer groups. He added: “From giving up-and-coming online British brands the chance to experience physical retail, to funding the training of full-time apprenticeships and helping to increase SME exports, Amazon is committed to supporting the growth of small businesses - helping them boost the economy and create jobs across the UK.”
“UK shoppers like to shop both online and in high street stores, and our intention is to help small businesses succeed by combining the best elements of online and high street retail,” said Enterprise Nation founder Emma Jones. “This new concept will provide small businesses with the space, technology and support to experience physical retail for the first time, while enabling customers to discover new brands on their local high streets.”
Amazon, which represents 2% of the UK retail market, also unveiled a new £1m Apprenticeship Fund to help small or medium-sized business (SME) selling on the site to "upskill their workforce through their own dedicated apprentices". The investment will help create more than 150 apprenticeships.
The announcement comes after Amazon denied a large-scale reduction of orders from small suppliers, saying selling partnerships are reviewed on an individual basis.
A Bloomberg report said "a purge is coming that will upend the relationship between the world’s largest online retailer and many of its long-time vendors," in the US.
Amid speculation of how a review would hit UK publishers and fears small indies would get burned, Amazon denied the story.
In a statement, an Amazon spokesman said: "We informed Bloomberg prior to publication of their article that their sources and story are wrong. We review our selling partner relationships on an individual basis as part of our normal course of business and any speculation of a large scale reduction of vendors is incorrect. Like any business, we make changes when we see an opportunity to provide customers with improved selection, value and convenience, and we do this thoughtfully and considerately on a case-by-case basis."