Three months ago, Amazon opened its first brick & mortar bookstore in NYC.
This weekend, I finally took the time to visit the store. Given the extensive media coverage, there was very little surprise. The store was small, compared to traditional bookstores. There were plenty of staff – the staff to book ratio was probably higher than traditional bookstores. They also had to give more explanation than traditional bookstore, because of the unique shopping experience.
There are no price tags on shelves.
As you probably know, virtually all books print their official list price on the back cover. So, why no price tags at the store? Because if you were an Amazon Prime member, you likely get a lower price. Amazon often sells book at a price lower than the official list price online. If you were an Amazon Prime member, the bookstore will honor that online lowered price. If you were not an Amazon Prime member, you are stuck with that higher list price.
How do shoppers find out the price? Good question – as it isn’t that obvious. There are price scanners scattered across the store, but there weren’t that many scanners overall. The other alternative is through the Amazon app, if you knew that feature existed in the app and if the app’s photo recognition tech works properly.
Actual book selection was limited.
The store was rather small. It was the size probably of an independent neighborhood bookstore. The books were displayed beautifully with the front cover facing out (vs the spine facing out which saves room on shelves).
It was clear that the store had a significant focuses on devices (e.g. Amazon Echo, Amazon Kindle), which according to a NY Mag article was a key section of the store. In fact, books were there to support selling of devices.
There was also a comparatively large portion of the store dedicated to children’s books. If you think about the children’s book target, this makes sense. People buy adult books based on a summary, and they discover the book as they read it. Parents buy the book after finish reading it and after determining that it’s suitable for their children. Online shopping just doesn’t offer the same reassurance.
So, what books are available for adults in that limited space – whatever Amazon’s data deemed as likely to sell. That ranges from what people are reading on Kindle to what people are putting on wishlists.
What happens if you want a book that’s not available at the bookstore? Well, I guess you can always order it from Amazon, because the bookstore wouldn’t do much to help you there.
Check out was a connected experience.
If you have the Amazon app on your phone, the check out experience is somewhat seamless. The associate shows you where to click, and then they scan the code. It’s charged to the credit card connected to your Amazon account. Since the check out is tied to your account, it automatically recognizes if you are a Prime member or not, and charges accordingly.
If you do not have the Amazon app, you’ll have to sign onto Amazon with the tablets at check out.
If you do not have an Amazon account, you’ll have to have get one…
Bottom line – it’s a bit unclear why this store exists. But Amazon rarely do things without a master plan, so allow me to offer some hypotheses…
- Push Prime memberships – which is the obvious play. However, it’s curious that Amazon starts this brick & mortar move in metro areas, where Prime membership likely has higher penetration already… Nevertheless, Prime membership is key to having a consumer hooked into the overall Amazon ecosystem.
- Sell devices – which are not cheap, and the in-person demo can help sell these devices. Echo likely will soon make a bigger connected home play, and will continue to grow the Amazon ecosystem.
- Push impulse purchases – as much as there are recommended lists on Amazon, there is a certain discovery process that results in impulse purchases that happens in stores that just doesn’t happen online. I bought a game that was near the check-out area that was never recommended to me online, but I knew my boyfriend would find entertaining.
- Create events – bookstores had always had events such as book signing. I doubt Amazon would go this traditional route, but having the space gives Amazon a venue to have in-person connections with its shoppers that can further build loyalty with the brand