Amazon says it will sell its Echo speaker, Fire tablets and other devices at Whole Foods Market sites, turning more than 100 stores into sales outposts for Amazon's expanding line of electronics.
The move is one of the most visible efforts to place Amazon's wares in the grocery-store chain it purchased for $13.5 billion in August. The deal gave the Seattle company more than 460 stores in the U.S., Canada and Britain, and analysts expected Amazon to use its new brick-and-mortar footprint to get its goods closer to consumers.
The company said Thursday that its lines of newly expanded Echo voice-activated speakers, Fire tablets and television stick, and Kindle e-readers would be on sale at select Whole Foods sites this holiday season.
Staffed Amazon pop-up stores will open in a handful of Whole Foods sites beginning next week -- in Chicago, Denver, Rochester Hills, Mich.; Davie, Fla.; and Pasadena, Calif. -- giving customers the chance to try out the devices.
But the other about 100 Whole Foods stores will get unstaffed displays of gadgets, including some floor models for customers to try out. In the Seattle area, that includes stores in Roosevelt, South Lake Union and Bellevue, a Whole Foods spokeswoman said. She said the displays would be up before Black Friday's unofficial start to the holiday shopping season.
Amazon moved quickly to make its mark on Whole Foods, touting price cuts on some popular items the day the deal closed. The cuts were limited to a narrow range of items, but analysts say the publicity, and the notion that a grocer known in some corners as "Whole Paycheck" might be changing its ways, increased customer visits to the store.
The company hinted at its plans for electronics early on, placing Echos for the first week or so after the acquisition under a tongue-in-cheek "Farm Fresh" banner in Whole Foods stores.
"Now we're starting to see the things we anticipated would happen after the acquisition," said Ricardo Rubí, a partner with consulting firm Simon-Kucher who focuses on consumer retail.
Slotting voice-activated speakers in a retail space devoted to produce and cases of sparkling water represents an experiment that most grocery stores haven't tried, Rubí said. Amazon is likely hoping that a few people who drop in to pick up an Echo instead of waiting for delivery will grab some groceries while they're in the store.
Other retail chains have long commingled categories of goods, from pharmacies dabbling in groceries, electronic gadgets and books to the racks of candy and soft drinks lining the checkout aisles at Home Depot. And Amazon rival Wal-Mart includes a wide selection of goods at its superstores.
Amazon had started putting lockers, delivery sites for online shipments, in some Whole Foods stores, and has said it will link its Amazon Prime membership program to Whole Foods. In the South Lake Union site in Seattle, Amazon gift cards are prominently displayed next to the customer-service counter.
"We're experimenting with a lot of formats," Amazon Chief Financial Officer Brian Olsavsky said of Amazon's brick-and-mortar ambitions on a quarterly earnings call with analysts last month. "I think that Whole Foods really gives us a vast head start on that and a great base."
It remains to be seen whether Amazon will make major changes to Whole Foods inventory. The Austin, Texas, based company has long prioritized stocking high-quality, organic products, often with a more limited selection than rival grocers.
Amazon's online retail juggernaut, on the other hand, emphasizes wide selection, often at low prices.
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Image credit: Whole Foods Market.