Heading to New York anytime soon? There’s no shortage of cool things to see and do in the Big Apple but one of the newest? The Amazon Books store in Columbus Circle. With existing stores in California, Illinois, Massachusetts, Oregon and Washington), this is the seventh physical store the online retail giant has opened (with six more locations planned) and it’s definitely got people talking.
The 4,000-square foot store is situated on the third floor of the shopping centre in Columbus Circle where a Barnes & Noble used to be. It’s a bit of a You’ve Got Mail situation (although Barnes & Noble is a much more formidable competitor to Amazon than The Shop Around the Corner was to Fox Books). But as bricks and mortar stores like Barnes & Noble are struggling and closing locations, Amazon is doing just the opposite, taking its online business into the light of day to meet people IRL.
As a huge book lover, I excitedly made my way to the new store, which just opened yesterday, to check things out. One of my favourite things to do on a lazy weekend morning is grab a cup of tea and peruse a bookstore, looking for my next great reads. Curious as to how the Amazon store experience would measure up to a typical Barnes & Noble or Indigo experience, I went in with an open mind.
The store’s footprint is small by comparison to other big book retailers and the concept behind the store is to offer a smaller but more curated collection of titles. So while you certainly won’t find every book available on Amazon.com in-store, you will find a selection of their highest-rated books; for the most part, books have to have a four-star rating or higher to be deemed worthy of appearing in-store. Amazon is using its enormous goldmine of user data to drive in-store displays.
For instance, little placards sit beneath each book telling you how many stars reviewers have given the book on Amazon.com (“94% of reviewers rated this item 5 stars”) and provide you with a bar code. There are no prices listed. You can either check the price using the in-store scanner or use your phone and scan the bar code using the Amazon app. If you have Amazon Prime, you’re in luck – you’ll pay the online price. Otherwise, you’ll pay the book’s full list price. But you can sign up for Amazon Prime in-store if you want the discount. I’ve had Amazon Prime for a few years now and for me, it’s a real game-changer. I absolutely love the two-day free shipping (and sometimes ONE-DAY free shipping is offered, yay!) I order all kinds of necessities, especially things for my baby. Why struggle with large and unwieldy boxes of diapers in Target when I can just have them arrive at my front door? Why run around to countless stores looking for hooks for my Christmas ornaments when I can just order them from my phone? (They arrived within 12 hours, by the way.) And my Kindle is a life necessity, allowing me to conveninently store my entire library on a handheld device that weighs just 4.6 ounce.
Inside Amazon Books, there are some immediately noticeable differences from a typical bookstore experience. All book covers are facing outwards, no spines. While it takes up more shelf space to display books this way, you have to remember that this store isn’t about offering customers quantity (you can get that on Amazon.com), it’s about what they’ve deemed a quality collection. They’re bringing online reviews to life in a way by presenting you with top reviewed, loved and recommended reads. The way books are categorized is different than you might expect. Sure, you can find fiction titles and cookbooks easily enough but you’ll also find sections like ‘Books with More than 10,000 Reviews on Amazon.com’ or ‘Page Turners’, so-called because these are e-books that their data indicates have been read in three days or fewer.
Oh, and the store is cashless, another major difference. Customers can just check themselves out using self-serve kiosks.
What’s missing is the sense of welcome that I love in stores like Barnes & Noble and Indigo. There are no floor-to-ceiling windows flooding the space with natural light, no oversized, stuffed chairs to sink into and there’s no adjacent coffee shop urging you to stay a while. There’s a certain reverence in book stores, sort of like a library, that was conspicuously absent. The experience feels rather perfunctory and I missed the sense of discovery. As an avid reader, I already knew about most of the fiction titles they had on display. I’d either read them already, had them on my ‘to-read’ list already or had dismissed them because I wasn’t interested. I didn’t see much that was new or that I hadn’t already discovered online.
Besides books, the store also had an electronics section where customers can get acquainted with Amazon’s hardware, things like the Kindle and the Echo. You can touch them and play around with them, something that up until now, customers weren’t able to do. You’d have to buy these devices online, sight unseen and hope for the best. I like this tactile experience. But overall, I’m not sure where these new stores will fit into the retail landscape. Amazon themselves were the ones who revolutionized how we read and shop for books and now their vision for the future … well, it seems like they’re looking ahead to the past.
Overall, I’m not quite sure how I feel about the new concept bookstore but I’ll admit that I’m such a bibliophile that I love being surrounded by books, no matter what shape that experience takes. I enjoyed checking out the store but I’m not really sure why I would go back.
Have you been to one of Amazon’s new bricks and mortar stores? What did you think? Leave a comment below. I’d love to hear your feedback!