Join me in a tour of Amazon’s new brick and mortar store experience – Amazon Books. With some .com twists, Amazon Books is bringing the bookstore experience back. The future of digital retail involves bricks.
My quick take:
Last week I took a tour of Amazon’s second store experiment called Amazon Books, located at upscale outdoor Westfield UTC Mall in posh La Jolla, California. While Amazon could have wowed us more, you see the potential of where the Amazon store experience is going with many more SKUs and a customer service experience (returns, exchanges) in one spot.
Notable neighborhoods first:
Located just a few miles from the University of California at San Diego campus, the newly opened Amazon Books feels like the bookstores of the past with some digital twists. With its literal brick and mortar exterior, Amazon Books tries to mimic the warm and cozy feeling of a traditional bookstore and comes at sharp contrast to the sleek, stark white exteriors of its neighbors including the Tesla and the Apple store. Its placement creates a techie triangle in a retail-centric mall. Upon entry, you feel like you’re entering a store that’s part Microsoft Store (not Apple) and part Borders Books of late. Amazon’s hardware devices pop out in a small showcase area to the right with the book selections all around it. This location is perfect as a test base because of its proximity to UCSD and a young consumer base which is already using its extended services like 1 hour delivery and Amazon Textbook Rental.
Browse best sellers quickly so you can buy quickly:
Inside, more compact than a traditional Barnes and Noble, there were no chairs and tables to pass the time here. This is about an express, curated experience. Stocked on the shelves, according a company representative, are Amazon.com’s best sellers, with ratings of 4-star and above. This means you still would need to turn to the website for books in smaller print or those that are not bestsellers.
Displays do it a little differently:
The display experience is slightly different and is meant to work along with the Amazon App. Books are organized by traditional categories on the shelves, but all books face outward (no book spines shown), as the company believes it makes it easier to discover titles this way.
Under each title, an authentic Amazon review, similar to ones you see on the website. The one for Cameron Diaz’s The Longevity Book (below) was from a reviewer named “Jack.” With Jack’s review – a QR code, which you scan in the Amazon App to “enhance your experience,” the representative told me, with more reviews and details. Looking to scan, pay and go? Not quite. That is where the store falls short in matching the ease of the Amazon.com experience. While you can pay inside the Amazon App using the same stored credit card you pay with when you buy online or through the App, you still have to go to the counter to have a representative scan a barcode for you. This extra step feels clunky and not well thought for Amazon, which is known for purchasing ease and technology solutions.
Test drive Amazon hardware here:
A big part of the Books experience is the non-book showroom. When you walk in, you immediately notice all Amazon hardware products, making it feel like a tech store. On display and ready for test driving are devices like Kindle Tablet, Fire TV stick and even generic accessories by Amazon Basic that you would normally buy at Best Buy, like HDMI cables.
What is Amazon thinking?
There are many rationales for Amazon working its way backwards into a physical space. First, the store continues to be a vehicle to pushes Amazon Prime as a gateway product to all things Amazon, including hardware, entertainment and media content and a growing product line. In the bookstore, it gets you preferred pricing: for the Cameron Diaz Longevity book, Prime pricing is $19.99 for vs. the $27.99 list price.
The bookstore also creates a physical connection with Amazon which, right now, is primarily through a UPS delivery guy or a 3rd party vendor. Either way, in the Amazon store, the customer is buying from Amazon, not using a big box retailer to do the comparison shopping. But the potential could get way bigger than books, maybe rivaling Walmart, according to the LA Times:
“Analysts say that Amazon could also be experimenting with using physical stores as smaller versions of distribution centers, which it has been aggressively opening in recent years to ensure speedy delivery times. Orders can be shipped directly from the stores, while the locations themselves can serve as convenient places for shoppers to browse products and return items in person, industry watchers said.”
Coming your way?
Amazon, according to media reports, is looking to aggressively expanding this model and plans over 400 store locations nation-wide, according to a recent earnings call from mall operator General Growth Properties Inc. Boston, Chicago, Portland and New York City appear to be likely next sites.