In November 2015, Amazon opened its first physical, real-life bookstore, called Amazon Books, right on its home turf of Seattle.
Since then, Amazon has opened two more bookstores in San Diego and Portland, Oregon, and has just unveiled plans to open a new shop in Midtown Manhattan.
The latest bookstore will be located inside the Shops at Columbus Circle, a high-end shopping center near Central Park. Two more stores are now being planned for Chicago and Dedham, Massachusetts, according to The Wall Street Journal.
While I was in Seattle in August, I made sure to stop by the original Amazon Books to check it out. I don’t necessarily love Amazon, but I love books, and I am willing to play along with its ever-ambitious plans to conquer the world of commerce. Cheaper is cheaper, after all.
When my colleague Aly Weisman stopped by Amazon Books last December, she found that while she liked it for the most part, she hated the core concept of the store: The books don’t have a listed price; you have to use your phone and scan to see the most current price. But I had the complete opposite reaction. I thought it was great, in a way that only Amazon could make possible. Take a look and see what I mean:
The first Amazon Books is in Seattle's University Heights neighbourhood, not terribly far from the University of Washington.
At first blush, it looks just like any other bookstore on the inside. But the first hint that things might be a little different comes in that orange sign that says, 'What's the price?'
If you want a book, you have to check Amazon for the most current price. If it's cheaper on the website, it's cheaper in the store. And if something is on sale on the website, it's on sale in the store, too. Neat!
So when I decided that I wanted 'Nimona,' the (excellent) National Book Award Finalist graphic novel by Noelle Stevenson, I first had to scan it in the Amazon app for my iPhone...
When my colleague Aly Weisman visited Amazon Books late last year, she found that approach to be kind of lame, since it meant having your phone out always. Personally, though, I think it's awesome!
I'm not exactly proud of this, but when I go to bookstores these days, I end up browsing, finding something that seems interesting, and then I immediately pull out my phone and price-check it on Amazon.
That's because there's one critical flaw with Amazon's whole online shopping concept, and it's been that way since 1994: It just can't match the experience of going to the store and rifling through the pages of something that caught your eye.
So Amazon Books is the best of both worlds. I get that experience of browsing the shelves, which, as a card-carrying nerd, I love a lot. But I also know I'm getting what is almost definitely the best price possible, thanks to Amazon.
All of that said, Amazon definitely takes advantage of its physical space to push its own products, like the Kindle...
...the Amazon Echo smart-home assistant and its mini versions, the Amazon Tap and the Amazon Echo Dot...
...and even a selection of AmazonBasics electronics, the company's line of super-cheap electronics accessories. I picked up a $7.99 AmazonBasics Lightning cable for my iPhone while I was here, to go with that copy of 'Nimona.'
And if you use your Amazon account at checkout, the cashier will even thank you for being an Amazon Prime member. It's all very Amazon-y.
The quotes on the bags are taken from passages frequently highlighted by Kindle readers, like this one from Veronica Roth's 'Divergent.'
If Amazon Books has a shortcoming, though, it also comes from that Amazon-ness. On the one hand, Amazon will help guide you toward stuff that other customers liked...
...going so far as to pair up each book with Amazon user reviews and other distinguishing achievements for each title.
And, much like the Amazon website, the store will try to sell you new things based on things you might already like.
This particular choice is kind of funny -- Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos recently admonished Peter Thiel, the billionaire investor who wrote 'Zero To One,' for his controversial legal crusade against Gawker Media.
But that means Amazon Books kind of self-selects for stuff that's already popular. A traditional bookstore might take more chances on oddball diamonds in the rough or self-published books, but Amazon is biased toward larger trends here. Plus, they don't sell used books.
So while Amazon is a great thing for the frugal shopper, and an excellent example of how Amazon is willing to take risks in its quest to completely conquer commerce, it's not the ultimate bookstore. Not yet, anyway.
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