Stein Mart embraces the enemy with installation of Amazon Lockers in nearly 200 stores

Another brick-and-mortar retailer is turning to Amazon to help save its struggling business. Today, discount chain operator Stein Mart announced it will install Amazon Hub lockers in nearly 200 stores as soon as next month. The lockers are self-serve kiosks that allow Amazon shoppers to take advantage of in-store pickup and returns.

The deal will bring increased foot traffic to Stein Mart stores, potentially increasing its sales.

Meanwhile, Amazon gains the advantage of a brick-and-mortar presence for delivery and returns without having to invest in more real estate or making an acquisition, as it did with Whole Foods. The move also benefits Amazon’s battle with Walmart — the latter which has been quick to leverage its brick-and-mortar locations to aid its online shoppers.

Walmart stores, for example, offer self-serve pickup towers for online orders, curbside pickup for groceries and other household needs and other in-store pickup options. Last fall, it also began offering in-store returns for items from third-party marketplace sellers.

Stein Mart’s deal follows a larger industry trend of retailers and brands collaborating with, instead of fighting with, Amazon.

For example, department store chain Kohl’s recently expanded its own Amazon partnership.

Over the past couple of years, Kohl’s had been working with the e-commerce giant by allowing Amazon shoppers to bring their returns to 100 Kohl’s stores across the U.S. The deal resulted in increased foot traffic and revenues — and some would say it even saved Kohl’s.

In April, Kohl’s said the Amazon returns program would expand to all 1,150 of its U.S. locations.

Stein Mart, which last year made Retail Dive’s list of 12 retailers at risk of bankruptcy, has been fighting across multiple fronts to survive. It has improved its merchandise, cleaned out inventory, cut costs and tested services like ship-to-store. More recently, it began testing “endless aisles” (kiosks to connect store shoppers to broader online inventory), added mobile checkout and introduced a smarter fulfillment logic system to help fill web orders.

The company had also hinted last year it was open to almost anything, saying it planned to “explore strategic alternatives” to help improve its declining sales.

Despite its improvements, the chain still ended up with a disappointing 2018 holiday sales season, and remains in need of a bigger boost to its bottom line. That’s where the Amazon Hub Lockers come in.

The program allows Amazon shoppers to choose at checkout a Locker location at their nearest Stein Mart as their shipping address for their online orders. When their item arrives, they’ll receive an email along with a barcode that’s used to pick up their package during store hours.

This immediately should increase foot traffic to Stein Mart stores, as it has at Kohl’s, Whole Foods and other Amazon Locker locations. Over time, the hope is that Stein Mart sales will improve as well, if it’s able to successfully market its own in-store merchandise to the Amazon shoppers who drop by.

“We are thrilled to offer this innovative delivery experience to Amazon customers while introducing new shoppers to Stein Mart,” said Hunt Hawkins, Stein Mart’s CEO, in a statement. “Customer service and convenience are top priorities at Stein Mart, and the ability to give both to Amazon customers was a big factor in our decision to introduce this program.”

Stein Mart says the lockers will be available by early June.

Investors responded favorably to the news — Stein Mart shares jumped 45% after the Amazon deal was announced.