Amazon has opened several bookstores nationwide and 2 locations in New York City. There were a lot of questions and speculations for the online mammoth Amazon’s first brick-and-mortar bookstores, especially since they opened prior to the opening of a much more revolutionary cashier-less Amazon Go. I visited 2 locations in New York City, and I wanted to see whether they project the future of retail and learn from it.
The stores are 5,200 square feet for the 34th St. location and 4,000 square feet for the Columbus Circus location. Both locations were decently crowded even though the Columbus Circus location is located on the 3rd floor of the shopping mall. At first glance, they look much like a conventional bookstore, but there are some takeaways in details.
Amazon.com data influences book selections
In the stores’ bookshelves, all book covers are facing out, unlike traditional book stores where the books are stacked to maximize the inventory. Then you realize that the organization of books is much like how Amazon.com organizes its website. Each bookshelf has its own title such as “Highly Rated”, “Page Turners”, and genres, and you can see books under each category similar to how books are introduced in e-commerce.
It feels much more curated this way by seeing fewer books per shelf and each book is more promoted with its cover. However, I also hear criticism for the display; Some people find it harder to find the focal point by having all book covers facing out equally and how visual intense they look. The most interesting shelf is where they list books that are suggested based on a similar book. This is an analogue translation of Amazon.com. Probably a lot of traditional book stores organize books in a similar manner as well, but Amazon Books does it very clearly and much more convincingly with their data that backs up the choices.
The other unique aspect of the store is that individual books are labeled with a little more information driven from Amazon.com like star ratings and reviews. All books in the store are 4.8 ratings or above and the inventory rapidly changes depending on performances. I think the combination of the label and suggestions of books much like an e-commerce experience creates unique curation unlike stores curated by the shop staff only.
Hidden Prices and Awkward Paying Experience
In contrast to the supporting ratings and reviews the price, which you would assume to see, is not shown in the same label. The only way to find the price is by scanning barcodes either from the app or scanners located everywhere in the store. My first assumption is that they are doing this so they can keep the prices flexible. Online stores can change prices extremely frequently to target the best selling price for best selling timing to result in best profits. Printed labels won’t accept such dynamic price changes.
My second assumption is that it has a better opportunity to upsell users to join the Prime membership. Discounts and other perks that prime members will get are promoted throughout the store. It is logical to show discounted prices in a digital interface so they can promote details of prime members or the process can be completed within the app seamlessly.
However, similar awkwardness can be seen in paying. Customers can pay by other methods but in order to get the prime discounts, customers have to open up the code in their own apps and get registers to scan that. All these hustles don’t seem to make much sense to buy there in the store rather than just buy online. It may not be so much an issue for Amazon whether the purchase happens there or online; More importantly, the store is a showcase to promote products physically to increase Amazon’s holistic sales.
Opportunities to Test Amazon Hardware
Much more than books, Amazon’s hardware devices are highlighted in the Amazon Books stores. They are showcased at the front space of the store and it reminded me that Amazon now has so many devices beyond just kindles and echos. These devices are something customers need to test interactions by themselves and check product scale in real life for planning at home. However, since multiple types of these voice assistants are displayed next to each other, testing these devices there won’t really work. If each device is isolated with even small panels around, it may give enough acoustic barriers for customers to test voice commands without echoing. The same panels could also provide visual barriers to prevent customers from being shy to try.
As much as the Strand in New York City is known for book recommendations from knowledgeable staff, Amazon Books stores can provide professional consultations on Echo devices. Voice assistants are still new in the market and the majority of users don’t know how to use them beyond asking for the weather, playing songs or using it as a timer. The staff can do quick interviews with customers, and recommend useful skills to download. The experience will be even better if staff can personalize Echo by downloading skills based on customers’ lifestyles.
Opportunities with Kids
I also noticed that the colors of carpets at the kids’ sections were different. When I visited, there was a father and his son sitting on the floor and reading together. Serving for families can be a strong purpose for physical retail. As a father of a young daughter, I love to have destinations like these to spend time together. Children’s books are very effective when they are displaying with their covers facing outward since they are more visual-heavy, unlike the excess visuals that may be distracting when customers are looking for adult books.
Experience is what is valued in the physical retail space. If people can learn new things to better their lives or if there is a reason to spend time together such as with their families, there are still reasons for physical stores. Amazon Books stores may not be a substitute for buying regular books, but there is good potential if they can incorporate the education of Amazon devices and the experience for children to stay.