Prime Crib
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I Shopped at an Amazon 4-Star Store and This Is What Happened

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Prime Crib
400tmax/istockphoto

Prime Crib

When I got this story assignment, I was psyched. I know Amazon's criticisms — it's putting others out of business, the privacy concerns, and more — but let's just say the UPS and Fed-Ex drivers know our home well. Still, I had no idea such a thing as a bricks-and-mortar Amazon store existed, much less within an hour of my house. So, on a recent sunny Saturday afternoon in January, I loaded my husband and kids into the car (I wanted their feedback, too), and we drove to check out the Amazon 4-Star Store.

Related: Top-Rated Products to Shop on Amazon This Month

Preconceived Notions
Todd H./yelp

Preconceived Notions

I didn't have a lot of expectations going into this — after all, there are only nine of these types of stores around the country (with a handful more coming this year), so unlike well-known chains like Aldi or Ikea that we've explored, there was little to go on. I thought it would be a bit like shopping at an airport store. I expected maybe two or three employees, and I for sure didn't expect that it would be crowded.

Getting There
aapsky/istockphoto

Getting There

A cursory glance at 4-Star locations tells me that most Amazon bricks-and-mortar stores are in malls. This matters because some of us are not mall people. For instance, I would rather go to the dentist than the mall. So if you feel similarly, this might not be the shopping experience for you. Denver's location is in the massive Park Meadows mall, and even though the weather was wonderful that day, it turns out everyone wanted to get out of the house after the holidays. Parking was a challenge, and we also played the dodge-and-weave game once inside the mall because of the crowds.

It Was Crowded
Cheapism

It Was Crowded

That small number of shoppers I was anticipating? Yep, I was wrong. Drastically wrong. I'm not sure if the store is always so busy, but I stopped short of walking through its doors when I saw how many people were in there. My husband and I tried to take a quick headcount, and there seemed to be around 75 to 100 shoppers in what the Colorado Real Estate Journal reports is a 4,000-square-foot space — the equivalent of a pretty hoppin' party but without the benefit of a cocktail or actually knowing any of the people you're bumping into. I'm not a fan of crowds and am a bit claustrophobic, so the combination of that many people and the store's somewhat maze-like layout (more on that later) gave me pause.

There Are 'Greeters'
Melody L./yelp

There Are 'Greeters'

I don't know if this is how Amazon refers to them, but the second thing I noticed were two young men stationed by the store entrance, one of whom never left his post there. I later talked to him for a few minutes, and he told me he was a seasonal employee, one of many. This was post-holidays, so it seemed a little odd to me that they still had so many seasonal employees on staff, but given the crowds, it made some sense.

The Store is Really Well-Staffed
Cheapism

The Store Is Really Well-Staffed

I never got a final count on how many employees were running the store (I asked a couple of staffers and even they had no idea), but I would say at least 10 to 12. In that way, it reminded me of Apple stores, where you feel like you're running into an employee every 10 seconds or so. The Amazon store folks wore uniforms, so it was pretty easy to identify who could help you if you had questions, and I was probably asked three or four times if I needed help. I was also the only customer taking notes and photos, so that might have had something to do with it. I was encouraged at the diversity of the employees in regard to age, race, and hair color (Hi, vibrantly turquoise-hued woman who works at the Denver store!).

The Labyrinth-Like Layout
Cheapism

The Labyrinth-Like Layout

Maze-like is the best word I could come up with to describe how the store is set up. There are products lining the walls from floor to ceiling, and a large number of what I would call "vignette"-type tables (more on that later). I would not want to try to navigate an Amazon 4-Star Store with a stroller or a toddler, both for the limited amount of space in which to maneuver and, in the case of small children, the proximity and accessibility of so many things that can be grabbed. Because of the layout, you find yourself detouring a lot because other shoppers are blocking your path, and there's just not much room to maneuver past them.

Signs, Signs, Everywhere a Sign
Cheapism

Signs, Signs, Everywhere a Sign

It sounds chaotic, and it definitely felt chaotic, but the store also makes a valiant attempt at organizing everything. There is signage everywhere: on the walls, hanging from the ceiling, on each table, everywhere. The sign verbiage, for instance, contains everything from the practical and straightforward, like New & Trending Books or Pet Supplies & Toys, to what I would call messaging to appeal to the Instagram crowd. Think pithy saying like, "Write it down. Make it happen," "Make Time for Creativity," and "Pack for Adventure," with products curated to match (note that much of this mimics what you find on Amazon's website). There didn't seem to be a lot of rhyme or reason to what products and signage went where, with a few exceptions. For instance, "Electronics & Devices" were mostly grouped at the back of the store with a prominent ceiling sign hung above them.

Non-Amazon Products
Cheapism

Non-Amazon Products

The product selection is impressive and varied. Tons of books, lots of games, and countless products that would make great gifts. If I was inclined to shop at the mall, the Amazon 4-Star Store would be exactly where I would go to browse for a gift for a friend, family member, or even a child (half of one entire wall of the store was devoted to stuff for the kiddos). Candles, yoga mats, toys, throw blankets, electric tea kettles, headphones and earbuds, tools, a Ninja air fryer, even really random stuff like this cool little Steampunk-looking GrowlerWerks mini keg. I could go on and on, but you get the idea.There is a selection of greeting cards, wrapping paper, gift bags, and gift cards if you are there to buy a gift. As my husband noted, "There is enough selection and different categories in the store to replicate the experience of Amazon online."

Echos and Shows and Kindles, Oh My
Cheapism

Echos and Shows and Kindles, Oh My

Yes, Amazon's own products are, of course, well represented, such as Fire Sticks and more. Some smaller products, like the Fire Sticks, are scattered throughout the store so that if you change your mind and decide you do need that easy streaming action after all you won't have to go hunting for it again. Echos (regular and Dot versions), Shows, Kindles, and tablets were more strategically placed. All of this — the prolific availability of Amazon products throughout the store — was expected.

Amazon Tech 101
Cheapism

Amazon Tech 101

The unanticipated thing about all those staffers? I noticed many of them patiently talking to customers about how the tech works — both Amazon and non-Amazon. There was a pretty prominent selection of Samsung products, and employees were answering questions and showing physical features, which is pretty wonderful if you're not a tech genius. If you're intrigued by the idea of buying an Echo, a Dot, and a Show and figuring out how to link them together once you return home, the Amazon brick-and-mortar store isn't a bad place to go.

The High-Tech Pricing
Amazon 4-star/yelp

The High-Tech Pricing

Each item has a digital price tag near it that displays the non-Prime member price, the Prime price, how many shoppers have reviewed it, and its rating. I wasn't overly impressed with this feature at the time, but in retrospect, it's actually pretty cool. It lets you know that the retail giant is actually tracking the "4-Star" part of the name through some algorithm, so if that cool-mist humidifier suddenly drops to 3.5 stars, I assume one of those 10 or so employees is responsible for getting it off the floor and replacing it. And if the price suddenly drops or increases on the website (as we all know it frequently does), it changes in-store, too.

Amazon Knows All
Christian B./yelp

Amazon Knows All

We bought a couple of items and my husband went through the checkout process while I was still gathering reconnaissance. When I asked him later how the cashier knew he was a Prime member, such as giving a phone number, or opening the app and having something scanned, it turned out he merely swiped his debit card and somehow Amazon knew. It's probably as simple as his debit card being his primary form of payment on Amazon, but still … a little Big Brotherish. You can also pay using your phone's Amazon app.

Checkout Pros and Cons
Jane M./yelp

Checkout Pros and Cons

Other checkout details? We did get Amazon Music Unlimited pushed upon us (we declined and that was that). And one of the items we bought was an additional Echo Dot — which the cashier was immediately able to link to our existing device and other Amazon account details after verifying it wasn't a gift. We brought it home and had it playing music and telling us stories within minutes.

The Verdict
Nicholas H./yelp

The Verdict

Will I go back to the Amazon 4-Star Store? Doubtful. It's too far away from my house, and again, malls are pretty much a no-go for me. Admittedly, those same things can be said for our local Ikea, which is actually just a few blocks from the Amazon store and can be just as crowded and annoying as the mall, and I do go there once or twice a year. But the 4-Star Store, while somewhat of a novelty shopping experience, just isn't enough of one to warrant the gas mileage and headache of traffic and crowds for me. But if one opened up closer to home and I didn't plan ahead for a friend's birthday and needed a same-day gift? For sure, I'd be there.