Caitlin Muchow ‘18 / Emertainment Monthly Assistant Executive Copy Editor
Amazon’s first brick-and-mortar bookstore, which opened on November 3, 2015, in University Village in Seattle, Washington, is made out of just that; brick and mortar. This mix of classic and modern aesthetics exemplifies exactly what Amazon’s business model for this new store seems to be.
Inside the bookstore customers will find all the charm of print books, sitting side-by-side with all of Amazon’s modern technology such as the Kindle, Fire Tablet, Fire TV, and Echo. Amazon’s selection process also shows how they are combining old practices with new technology. The decisions on which books are stocked in their limited shelf space are based on the Amazon.com sales, pre-orders, customer ratings, and popularity on Goodreads, in combination with the input of their curators—and they never carry a book with less than a four star rating on their website. The book displays aren’t quite traditional either. For one thing, the books are facing outward, each with a small review from the website underneath it.
Additionally, none of the books have prices, just a small bar code below the aforementioned review, so customers can either find a scanner in various locations around the store, or use the Amazon app on their phones to scan it. The reason for having to scan the prices is because they are attempting to make the prices in the bookstore the same as they are online, which means that they are always changing.
One of the major goals for this store definitely seems to be advertising. The easiest way for customers to shop at the store is to download the Amazon app on their phones. Every customer is bombarded with Amazon’s big ticket products everywhere they look. The store has a limited selection, so if a customer is looking for anything in particular that isn’t on location at the bookstore, they are quickly recommended to go to Amazon.com, where they can find that special book and everything else their heart desires. And if they purchase Amazon Prime, all their dreams can be delivered to their house with free two-day shipping!
Another goal seems to be an attempt to revolutionize book stores, similar to the way Amazon has revolutionized online shopping, which, ironically, has almost killed big bookstore chains like Borders and Barnes & Noble, who had previously knocked out many independent bookstores. So the question is, is Amazon’s small lonely bookstore going to creep up on us like their small online bookstore did in the nineties? So far, it does not seem to have made big waves, and was not even mentioned in Amazon’s fourth quarter earnings report, which was announced on Thursday, January 28, 2016, summarizing the company’s financial results between September 30, 2015 and December 31, 2015. However, according to founder of Amazon.com, Jeff Bezos, the bookstore very much shows the values of the company he created.
“Twenty years ago, I was driving the packages to the post office myself and hoping we might one day afford a forklift. This year, we pass $100 billion in annual sales and serve 300 million customers. And still, measured by the dynamism we see everywhere in the marketplace and by the ever-expanding opportunities we see to invent on behalf of customers, it feels every bit like day one,” he said in the earnings report.
By opening a physical bookstore, Amazon is clearly showing its love of covering all markets, and their move into the concrete literary world leaves us with several essential questions. Will readers respond to the use of data and algorithms better than stock picked by humans? If so, will it lead to more optimization of the book buying experience, which could potentially be good for all brick-and-mortar bookstores? Or, on the other hand, the ultimate question, will Amazon monopolize physical bookstores the way it has online book selling, further knocking out independent bookstores? They have many more resources to pull from than most independent bookstores because of the nature of their large company, in which they can afford to work with little to no income from their bookstore until they build enough momentum to start making profit, which many bookstores can’t do. They are also able to offer books at a lower cost for the same reason. This, in combination with the draw of all the technology they are using in their stores could end up making Amazon much more able to keep a brick-and-mortar bookstore afloat than independent owners. Which leaves us to wait in anticipation of Amazon’s next move.