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An Amazon Go location in downtown Seattle. (GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser)

Sometimes the smallest changes can say a lot.

In just the last three years, Amazon has become a force in physical retail, evolving beyond its e-commerce roots. And a subtle but important shift in how the company talks about itself in regulatory filings shows how the tech giant has internalized that trend.

We compared Amazon’s 2017 and 2018 10-K filings to see what the company changed, removed and added this year. The so-called “everything store” is talking a lot more about its “stores” rather than its “websites” these days.

The word “stores” appears in Amazon’s 2018 10-K 48 times, versus only 18 in 2017. That’s an astronomical rise of 167 percent year-over-year. Even Amazon Web Services can’t compete with that kind of growth.

The term “website” only appeared 18 times in the 2018 10-K versus 64 times the year before.

E-commerce of course remains the mainstay of Amazon’s retail operations, but the language tweaks illustrate the greater trend of the company increasingly blurring the lines between digital and physical stores, a move that has competitors worried.

A Whole Foods festooned with Prime branding. (GeekWire Photo / Taylor Soper)

Unlike its retail rivals, which have been building stores for decades, Amazon is new to the brick-and-mortar game. Amazon opened its first physical store, the Amazon Books location in Seattle’s University Village mall, in 2015, but its footprint has grown rapidly.

Amazon owned or leased 527 stores around the globe at the end of 2018, according to the 10-K. Last year, Amazon only listed Whole Foods stores, reporting a portfolio of 472 locations at the time.

RELATED: How big is Amazon’s global real estate footprint? New filing reveals tech giant’s astounding presence

Amazon’s brick-and-mortar footprint at the end of 2018 was just over 20 million square feet, which is actually down from about 21.2 million square feet in 2017.

Last year, GeekWire research found that Whole Foods locations make up close to 80 percent of Amazon stores across the U.S., underscoring the importance of the $13.7 billion acquisition for the company’s brick-and-mortar push.

Amazon has also been active in expanding some of its retail concepts and starting new ones, while others have stalled:

AmazonFresh Pickup in Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood (GeekWire Photo / Kevin Lisota)
  • The first Amazon Go store in Seattle opened in January 2018, after the company spent a year internally honing the concept. It’s been a little over a year since then, and the company just opened the 11th Amazon Go location, this one in San Francisco.
  • Amazon introduced a new retail concept late last year that features only new and highly rated items. The first Amazon 4-star store opened in New York in September, followed by locations in Colorado and California.
  • There are now 19 Amazon Books locations either open or on the way, including one that just opened this week in the Denver area. The pace of expansion has slowed, and there are indications that Amazon has walked away from a couple of locations, but the new Denver store shows the company is continuing to invest in the concept.
  • In 2016, reports surfaced that Amazon was planning to open 100 Pop-Up stores selling Amazon devices in malls and inside Whole Foods locations across the U.S. But this week, the company said it will close all 87 of its Pop-Up stores spread across 21 states.
  • Amazon opened its first two AmazonFresh Pickup stores, where customers can order groceries online and schedule them for pickup, in Seattle last year in 2017. The company has yet to announce any additional locations.
The new Amazon 4-star store in Lone Tree, Colo. (Amazon Photo)

Amazon’s financials show that despite the expansion of the brick-and-mortar footprint, physical stores make up a miniscule part of the overall business. Amazon only started breaking out physical stores revenue in October 2017. In the fourth quarter of 2018, the tech giant reported $4.4 billion in revenue from its brick-and-mortar operations. Physical stores represented just 6 percent of Amazon’s total revenue in the holiday quarter.

RELATED: How Amazon’s expanding U.S. brick-and-mortar footprint stacks up against other big retailers

Most big retailers don’t break out digital versus in-store sales, so it makes it tough to compare, but one that does is Target. It’s an interesting comparison because the ratio of online to in-store sales is flipped compared to Amazon, with only 10 percent of Target’s sales coming from digital.

Target’s in-store sales for its third quarter were $16.7 billion, four times Amazon’s brick-and-mortar revenue. But when you add in online sales, Amazon more than doubles up Target, even without accounting for big parts of the company like Amazon Web Services.

Even with Whole Foods under its umbrella, Amazon doesn’t have near the physical presence of its rivals. But none of its competitors have the e-commerce clout and technical talent that Amazon boasts to blend its digital and physical stores. Plus no other retails have anything like the money-printing machine that is Amazon Web Services to prop up their balance sheets.

In the short term, it’s not that important how well Amazon does financially in the brick-and-mortar realm, and that’s part of what has spooked the rest of the retail world. But it has also created opportunities for others, as big-name retailers turn to Amazon rivals like Instacart for delivery and Microsoft for cloud services.

The entire retail industry has its eyes on Amazon, and if the tech giant’s subtle tweaks in how it thinks about itself are any indication, this is just the beginning.

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