Amazon and A9 re-remix the virtual and physical

by Rael Dornfest

There was a time people were vehemently concerned about turning any brick-and-mortar (large chain or independent) into an Amazon showroom. Armed with a cameraphone and a One-Click login, one might browse shelves and shuffle through pages at the local corner book shop, grab a snapshot of the UPC, and have items dropped on one’s doorstep at a reduced price and no shipping costs. Even a pencil and paper followed by quick hop on to the local in-store or nearby WiFi Hotspot would do. Or, to take things to the extreme, roping in location based services on your handset would allow for rather targeted offers: “You appear to be in an XYZ store; buy now from Amazon and we’ll take an additional 10% off the cover price.” Amazon had, it seemed, remixed the virtual/physical relationship between online/in-person shopping.

But as it turns out--and this should come as no real surprise--consumers tend to have two shopping modes: a) I want this for the best price and am willing to shop around b) I want it in my hands now. I tend toward a goodly mix of the two: if I’m online, I’ll shop online; if I’m in the store, I’ll pick it up there. The only real exception is if the online price is considerably different (it often isn’t, at least not enough to bother) or if I’m on the road and don’t fancy schlepping about those extra pounds of paper. So it seems Amazon hadn’t really remixed the virtual/physical so much as provide an amazing online store--not to minimize that achievement, mind you.

Now Amazon’s In-Store Pickup does indeed hit closer to the mark: order that gizmo online with one click and pick it up at your neighborhood Circuit City within minutes, hours, or at worst days. This lends itself less to tumble-dryers--something you’d want delivered and installed anyway--but does offer a reasonable mixture of price and convenience, online and immediacy. In-Store Pickup, in all practicality, is yet a proof-of-concept: the products locally-available are few and the partners far between.

In a talk I gave at an Amazon DevCon (for Amazon internal developers) last week, I brought up an idea I’ve been noodling for some time of turning the brick-and-mortar-as-Amazon-showroom idea inside out, with Amazon as virtual showroom for those with a physical presence--a virtual home for or augmentation of an existing virtual home for physical storefronts. And this is just the direction in which In-Store Pickup appeared headed, albeit not particularly speedily.

Take it a little further with an online errand list (not all that different from a wishlist, really), a dash of geolocation, and suggested route and you’ve re-remixed online and meatspace into a nice Getting Things Done package.

Instead of the great trek you find yourself in, wandering from store to store in search of this or that, Amazon will find some of your items, purchase them on your behalf, and figure out that the supermarket you visit twice weekly is just a block from your favorite bookstore which is a scant two minute drive from a toy store fully stocked with the latest Leapster must-have. Sure you could call ahead, but it’s often easier (or just seems so) to meander a city than phone trees, not to mention the number of times random employee A says that part B is “right in front of them” only to have disappeared by the time you arrive, leaving random employee B to say, “We’ve not had those in for weeks; who did you speak to?” And you’re off again. You’d also free your mind of details like where that Radio Shack is just in case you ever need to buy batteries.

An interesting side-effect (and that’s putting it lightly, particularly for the stores in question) of this re-remixing is that storefronts without a virtual presence effectively disappear from the landscape. Walmart might be in your face no matter where you turn when you’re out and about, but without a hook through your browser, it’s nowhere in sight when you’re planning your errands before leaving the house. If it’s not in Amazon, it probably doesn’t exist. You’ll be amazed how quickly you forget the very existence of stores you don’t frequent.

A9’s new Yellow Pages is truly inspired. Strap a camera and GPS to a truck and drive tens of thousands of miles through city streets snapping storefronts as they appear to passersby. Pair that with Yellow Pages listings. And--here come those network effects is harnessing left, right, and center--allow you, the local (or anyone in the world, for that matter), to fix off-by-one-or-one-block errors with the click of a checkbox and augment listings with your own images and metadata about the business at hand. And the Click to Call Business button is a useful touch, albeit subject to the one-off difficulties described above.

Here's a quick recipe for Amazon Errands: Hook A9 Yellow Pages into the Amazon Marketplace, bringing those thousands of individuals and companies selling virtually through Amazon with their myriad products into real-space, mix in an In-Store Pickup button for anyone with a local shingle, and expand ever so slightly the functionality of wishlists to allow for lists of lists, some of which are local. Stir and you're thinking global, shopping local.


2005-01-28 13:55:48
There is much better Virtual Tour of San Francisco!
I am surprised. Search for 'San Francisco Virtual Tour' on Google. Site #1 containes an
excellent quality San Francisco interactive Virtual Tour
. INTERACTIVE! With great pictures.
It was published in 2002, way before was even formed. Now it has Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz - all the city.

Igor Polk,

San Francisco Click,
Photo Virtual Tour Magazine:
Yes San Francisco, LLC

2005-12-20 17:34:54
A Virtual Tour of New York City
I have recently visited this very interesting website. It tops anything that I have seen. The website is

The website is an actual virtual tour of New York City. Through the website you can navigate in the city moving forward, backward, left and right. The website is mapped to Google Maps

You can even read descritions of stores and historical sites.

2005-12-20 17:42:58
Virtual NYC Tour
The Virtual New York Tour is excellent. here is a better link (