About 20 minutes ago I walked through Amazon’s only (first?) brick and mortar bookstore. It opened nearly two months ago, and being in Seattle I probably should have stopped by earlier.
Everyone has opinions about Amazon. One of my favorite people won’t shop with them because of their staffing practices. After a horrible interview experience when they approached me, I won’t work for them (but I’ll buy from them). They’ve been blamed for the downfall of the traditional bookstore. An accusation oft repeated when this bookstore opened. Along with many questions why the bookstore killer would open a brick and mortar bookstore.
After visiting Amazon’s bookstore I understand why they opened a bookstore, and why it will be a success.
I have to admit the bookstore is beautiful. Not as a browse and curl up to read bookstore, but as a data-driven experience. Aesthetically, the store is cramped with tall shelves and tiny walkways. When you open the door, the place just smells new. Definitely not lived-in and comfy like my favorite bookstores.
But looking harder, you can see the big data influence.
Amazon’s website and sales volume give them many advantages over a traditional bookstore. Their buying power is enormous (and practices a bit ruthless), so they can sell at prices the others can only dream about. But they also have data systems and analysis that… Let’s just say is amazing. And they’ve used it to create the bookstore.
Most of the floorspace is dedicated to books on most of the main topics. A lot more business and tech than many bookstores in the area, fiction, yoga, cooking, and a decent kids department at the back. The kids department is a tad more spacey, but not by much. Most of the books were predictable. I was surprised to see Bryce Courtney’s Power of One on the shelf. I know it’s one of his best, but I didn’t know anyone had heard of it outside Australia. A shelf talker card with every book has a written review from Amazon.com and the star rating. The kind of information you usually secretly search while in store. No prices are displayed. Instead, signs show how to scan books with the Amazon mobile app. If you don’t have a phone, there are one or two scanners available. The prices are the same as online. This feature has been criticized, but I’m guessing those people have never worked retail. I still have nightmares of stickering 200 Disney coffee mugs.
The shelf headers show how the data is used. Young Adult Books 4.5/5 and above is one. I loved the most commonly wished for cookbooks. There’s even a carousel of books popular in the Pacific Northwest.
I don’t expect to ever see any markdowns. I assume any unsold stock will just go back to the warehouse if there even is any. Amazon has the local sales data to know exactly what’s popular down to the neighborhood-level. Also, I’m assuming there’s some kind of tracking on Amazon.com scans within the store. It could be done cumulative, without compromising privacy. It means they know exactly what to stock when. It’s a data lover’s dream.
I’m sorry to say it, but even in the US city with the most independent bookstores, this bookstore will be a success. Hopefully, the data processes will be shared to set new standards for retail. I was impressed.