While in Seattle recently, I visited Amazon’s flagship, first-ever, and currently only brick-and-mortar bookstore. I was curious why Amazon – the king of online book sales – had changed its marketing strategy. Why invest in a traditional bookstore now after so many years of clobbering the competition by offering a broad selection at discount prices? What made this bookstore different from any other? And why build it in Seattle?
At first glance, Amazon’s sparkling new bookstore looks much like any other. The perimeter of the store is rimmed with tall windows, flooding the interior with natural light. Tall bookcases line the floor, mostly fiction on one side of the store, non-fiction on the other. There’s a children’s section at the rear with cozy seats for young shoppers.
But browse further and you’ll notice a few differences.
Book covers face outward. You won’t find any books filed with just spines showing. According toa sales manager I questioned, it was to “encourage the discovery process”.
New products are front and center, and you are encouraged to give them a try.
For the most part, only books that receive a 4 to 5 star rating on Amazon.com are stocked in the store. Cards positioned below each title provide a sample review and the book’s star rating on Amazon.com.
Actual prices are not noted on the covers or on the cards below them, but scanners are available throughout the store and you are encouraged to use them.
Prices are the same as the discounted prices on Amazon.com. This book by Erik Larson, one of my favourite authors, was listed at $17.00 . The discounted price was $11.70. Shoppers at the store gain by avoiding shipping costs and any mailing delays.
Displays throughout the store reinforce the Amazon.com connection. Online reviewers determine not only what books are stocked, but also to some degree where their favourite books are shelved and located.
If the crowds sifting through the store on the day I visited are any indication, Amazon’s just might be on to something with its new store. Certainly some – like me – were just curious visitors, but since I walked out with 3 newly purchased books when I had no intention of buying even one, perhaps that’s a testimony to Amazon’s clever marketing. As a reader, I felt strangely empowered. Here I belonged to a worldwide community of readers where our reviews, our feedback, our choices determined what was placed on the shelves. And talk about enticing prices. The discounts are hard to beat.
According to the sales clerk I questioned, this is exactly what why Amazon ventured into the brick-and-mortar field. “Amazon has been in operation for 20 years. We felt it was time to branch out, to offer more to our valued customers.”
Two more Amazon stores are set to open in the next few months – one in Portland, the other in San Diego. But why Seattle for the first? Perhaps a better question is ‘Why not Seattle?” Seattle is Amazon’s home base and at 20,000 employees in 30 buildings spread throughout the city, its largest private employer. Seattle is where the company started, where it’s grown into a worldwide mega-empire, and where proof of it gigantic holdings can be seen in a new office complex currently under construction that will soon dominate the city’s downtown.