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DESIGN/CONSTRUCTION

First Look: Amazon Books, Manhattan

BY Marianne Wilson

Eleven and counting. That’s where Amazon Books stands with the opening of its newest outpost.

Located across from the Empire State Building in Midtown Manhattan, the 5,200-sq.-ft. store is part bookstore and part high-tech electronics store — with a cafe thrown in for good measure. It has a contemporary look, with accent lighting and wood flooring and wood shelves and display tables. The spacious children’s area is accented with carpeting and chairs for lounging. Stumptown coffee and pastries and other items are sold in the cafe, which has both table and counter seating. The cafe is set off from the rest of space with black and white tile flooring.

The new Amazon Books has about 3,700 titles available for sale. The selection is based on Amazon.com customer ratings, pre-orders, sales, popularity on the company’s Goodreads’ book review and recommendation site, and its own curators’ assessments. All books are placed with their covers face-out on the shelves, and under each book is a small card with a review and the Amazon.com customer rating. Most have been rated 4 stars or above.

One of the things that makes the store feel — and look — different from standard book shops is the way its books are organized. Similar to what Amazon does with its online offerings, the books are organized into a variety of sections, with titles appearing in multiple sections. For those who prefer the more conventional approach, there are the standard genre departments, including new nonfiction, cooking, young adult, travel, science fiction & fantasy, self-improvement and more.

In an interesting twist, however, the books are also displayedin such categories as “highly rated” (4.8 stars & above), and “Goodreads’ most-read classics.” Additional categories include “100 books to read in a lifetime,” and “page turners” (books Kindle readers finished in three days or less). One large section makes recommendations based on books that the shopper has already read (“if you like, you’ll love this”).

But books are only part of the merchandise mix. The store also serves as a showcase for all of Amazon’s tech products, from Fire television and the Alexa Smart Home system to Echo and the Kindle e-reader. The items are displayed on tables and stands that make it easy for customers to test drive — and hopefully buy — the products. Several displays are devoted to tech accessories. And there are plenty of associates hovering around to answer questions.

Amazon Books will open two more locations in 2017, at Westfield Century City in Los Angeles, and at Broadway Plaza in Walnut Creek, Calif., giving it a total of 13 by the end of the year. The company hasn’t commented on how many bookstores it plans to open in 2018.

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ECOMMERCE

Home Depot adds ‘voice-activated’ shopping to the mix

BY Deena M. Amato-McCoy

The nation's largest home improvement retailer is getting in on the voice shopping game.

Home Depot is joining Google Express this fall, a move that will give its customers the ability to shop just by speaking their orders. Google Assistant, the search giant's online shopping platform, resides on Google’s smart speaker Google Home and other smart devices.

The new option expands Home Depot’s omnichannel strategy, which currently encompasses 2,282 store locations and a digital endless aisle available online and via mobile devices. By adding Google Assistant to the mix, customers will be able to shop via voice on Google Home devices, or the Google Express website or app.

"We're focused on delivering convenience and value as we continue to invest in best-in-class interconnected experiences for our customers," said the company’s online president and chief marketing officer Kevin Hofmann. "Google has been a key strategic partner for us over many years, and we're excited to take our relationship to the next level with the Google Assistant and Google Express."

The move also takes direct aim at Amazon and its Alexa voice-controlled device — especially as the online giant continues to steal more wallet share from the tools and home improvement category.

Last month, Walmart announced it is also embarking on a similar partnership with Google. By teaming up with search engine giant, Walmart enables customers use Google Assistant to shop among hundreds of thousands of items.

Walmart, which is also using the program to bolster its defense against online rival Amazon, said the service will be available in late September.

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News

Gap Inc. shifting focus—and store footprint—to two brands

BY Marianne Wilson

Gap Inc. is shifting its emphasis to its two best-performing brands — and realigning its store portfolio to reflect its new emphasis.

The nation's largest specialty apparel retailer had decided that its future growth lies primarily in its lower-priced Old Navy and athleisure-positioned Athleta brands. As a result, it expects to close about 200 underperforming Gap and Banana Republic stores over the next three years. Banana Republic has been a particularly dismal spot for the retailer, with 10 straight quarters of same-store sales declines.

During the same time period, the company will add about 270 Old Navy and Athleta stores across its portfolio. Gap expects Old Navy to exceed $10 billion and Athleta to exceed $1 billion in net sales in the next few years, driven by growth in online and mobile channels, U.S. store expansion, and continued market share leadership in loyalty categories.

In addition, Gap Inc. will accelerate its online and mobile strategies during the next three years with a continued "significant" investment in such areas as direct fulfillment capacity, loyalty, personalization, omnichannel services, artificial intelligence and other data-driven customer experiences.

Gap expects to save about $500 million in expenses over the next three years by "better leveraging its size and scale, cross-brand synergies and streamlining operations and processes." It said it plans to reinvest part of the savings in its growth initiatives, "providing opportunity for margin expansion."

"Over the past two years, we’ve made significant progress evolving how we operate – starting with getting great product into the hands of our customers, more consistently and faster than ever before,” said Art Peck, president and CEO, Gap Inc. “With much of this foundation in place, we’re now shifting our focus to growth. We will leverage our iconic brands and significant scale to deliver growth by shifting to where our customers are shopping – online, value and active.”

Gap Inc. products are available for purchase in more than 90 countries worldwide through about 3,200 company-operated stores, about 450 franchise stores, and e-commerce sites.

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