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Retail Industry Is Freaking Out Over Threat of Amazon Stores

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Jeff and Mackenzie Bezos at the 2012 Met Gala, via Getty
Jeff and Mackenzie Bezos at the 2012 Met Gala, via Getty

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Amazon.com Founder Jeff Bezos took home the National Retail Federation's prestigious Gold Medal Award yesterday, marking the first time an online retailer has received the award. Amazon has probably been the single most disruptive force in retail in the past years, and is therefore not exactly beloved by the traditional brick-and-mortar industry. So as NRF's membership base is comprised mainly of brick-and-mortar retailers, acknowledgement from the organization is a bit of a big deal for e-commerce.

Add that to Amazon's sponsorship of and prominent presence at last spring's Met Gala, and you have an online company that has managed to establish itself in the traditional retail—and even fashion—circles. But despite all that acceptance, it was the tone of the WWD article on yesterday's NRF award that was the most interesting part of the story.

Here's how the trade magazine describes the e-tailers accomplishments:

"Amazon has been a disruptive force for the traditional retail establishment... The e-commerce giant upended the book industry with its Kindle e-reader and created a tablet for games, movies and other products. Amazon has declined to collect sales tax for online sales, angering brick-and-mortar retailers who say the Web giant has created an unlevel playing field.

Not exactly a chummy pat on the back.

They go on to claim that "Bezos recently said that he's interested in opening physical stores for Amazon, sending an additional chill down traditional retailers' spines." Dramatic!

The article doesn't cite a reference, but we assume WWD is referring to an interview Bezos gave Charlie Rose in November 2012, in which he said Amazon would be interested in physical stores, but only if he could figure out the right niche for the company. Here's the actual quote, per Business Insider's transcript of the interview:

"We would love to [open physical stores], but only if we can have a truly differentiated idea.

One of the things that we don't do very well at Amazon is do a me-too product offering. So when I look at physical retail stores, it's very well served. The people who operate physical retail stores are very good at it.

The question we would always ask before we would embark on such a thing is: what's the idea? What would we do that would be different? How would it be better?

We don't want to do things because we can do them. We want to do something because it's going to — we don't want to be redundant."

So whether Amazon is actually going to follow retailers like Piperlime and Bonobos and invade the brick-and-mortar world remains an unanswered question for the time being, but one thing seems to be sure: traditional retailers are already freaking out about the idea.
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