Where’s the treasure in your truck, Amazon?

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Where’s the treasure in your truck, Amazon?

By Gina Acosta - 08/24/2018
Amazon's Treasure Truck hits the Cigar City Brewing parking lot in Tampa, Fla., waiting for shoppers.

As a longtime Amazon Prime member and a business journalist, I was intrigued by the concept of Amazon’s Treasure Truck.

Launched in 2015, Amazon has been slowly expanding its fleet of these trucks carrying limited-quantity items offered at a discount for the past few years. And I was especially enthusiastic when Amazon launched the Treasure Truck in Tampa, Fla., my home base.

But after a few months of tracking the truck, shopping from it, and evaluating its “treasures,” I have to say I’m disappointed and already beginning to experience what I would call “Treasure Truck fatigue.”

Most days of the week, Amazon Prime members who sign up for Treasure Truck alerts receive texts letting them know what “treasure” is on the truck that day. The type of treasure offered runs the gamut from food to beauty to hard and soft goods. The shopper has the option of clicking on the text to get more information about the items offered, and to buy, or not buy. The checkout process is just as simple and elegant as anything else that Amazon does online, of course. Zero pain points along the path to purchase. 

The shopper then has the option of choosing when and where to pick up the items. The truck parks at various locations throughout the day for two-hour time slots, and the locations are always within a 1-5 mile radius of the Amazon Prime member. What happens if the shopper doesn’t show up? Amazon automatically cancels the order and the customer is refunded.

On approach, the truck itself is big and boldly painted in bright blue and red. It looks fun and exciting. There’s usually a crew of two Amazon employees checking in shoppers and handing out merchandise. They are always very friendly (“HI! Thanks for shopping the Treasure Truck!”) The truck is also adorned with lights and has a speaker blasting dance music. Crew members ask shoppers whether they want to play games to win prizes (“Win an Amazon bumper sticker if you can get the ball in the hoop.”). But there is something off-putting about the truck.

Unlike being at Ross Stores, or Costco, or TJ Maxx or any of the other retailers that leverage the treasure hunt strategy into big sales, here, at the Amazon truck, there is no frenzy of shoppers around me jockeying for position on a great deal. After a few clicks on a smartphone, shopping the truck is just driving up, parking the car, picking up merchandise and driving away. It’s a boring, solitary shopping experience. Interestingly, every time I’ve bought something from the truck (twice), I was the only shopper there picking up items.

I do admit I look forward to the Treasure Truck texts (which obviously do a good job of generating excitement), but I’m already starting to tune them out, because most of the time, the items offered are not that interesting to me or are too expensive. For example, after several months of tracking, I have yet to see any Treasure Truck item offered in Tampa under $17. This month’s treasures included a Chicago-style cheesecake for $34.99, an inflatable pool mat for $17, a pound of Atlantic salmon twinned with a pound of asparagus for $22, and two lipsticks for $28. There was also a day when there was an alert for a pound of previously frozen lobster meat (claw and tail meat) for $37.99.

As a shopper, I don’t find any of these aforementioned items to be all that exclusive or a great value. And as a loyal Costco shopper, I know that I can buy previously frozen lobster tail (not claw and tail meat, but tail) at Costco for $24.99 a pound. I know that I can also buy a variety of large amounts of other foods at what most people would consider a great value.

So how does Amazon’s Treasure Truck stack up as the next evolution of the retail treasure hunt? The concept is certainly unique. The truck leverages FOMO (fear of missing out) and gamification in an innovative way. And it might do a good job of triggering a purchase decision that might not otherwise have occurred. But Treasure Truck shopping experience is a bit lonely. It’s not a real replacement for brick and mortar shopping or even for ship-to-home. And a lot of that is because the value proposition for shoppers is not there yet. Amazon might want to reevaluate its merchandising and pricing strategies so that its treasures are more in line with what shoppers today consider a great value and worth a trip to a parking lot.