On GeekWire, industry analyst Frank Catalano has taken another look at the Amazon Books bookstore, four months on from its opening, and the more he looks, the more he likes what he sees.
Amazon has become known for “showrooming”—the practice of letting customers check the Amazon price on items they find in big-box stores so they can buy them cheaper online. But with Amazon Books, Catalano observes, Amazon has effectively opened its own “showroom,” bringing some of the best aspects of the online shopping experience to bricks and mortar.
It lets customers browse and discover among hundreds of faced-out books, so they can see the full cover of each one just as they could on the Amazon web site. Since the price is the same as Amazon’s online price, customers know they’re getting as good a deal as they would online and staff don’t have to bother labeling and re-labeling everything as the prices change.
Customers can handle and examine not just Kindle and Fire products, but a wide selection of Amazon’s “Amazon Basics” store-brand merchandise. And it leverages Amazon’s online shopping service in a way Barnes & Noble could only wish it did—automatically e-mailing receipts if you check out with one of the credit cards on your Amazon account, for example.
The store isn’t perfect—and it will clearly never be mistaken for an independent bookstore. But overall, Catalano finds it to be a lot better brick-and-mortar shopping experience than Barnes & Noble:
The genius is that Amazon has neatly knocked down the virtual walls between online and physical retailing, carefully binging online content and transactional expertise to what already works in in-person shopping. It just happens to be a bookstore. Four months in, the combo has gelled.
It may have simply required a dot-com era survivor like Amazon to create Pixels and Brick 2.0.
Amazon seems to be satisfied with how well it’s gone so far, given that it’s opening a second location in San Diego. There are as yet no signs that it plans to open 400 locations, but I do hope it will at least see about putting them into the major markets it services with Prime Now. If it did, my own place of residence Indianapolis has a pretty good shot at getting one. And I’m with Hugh Howey—I’d like one in my area as soon as possible.
And depending on how you read recent remarks from Amazon’s VP of global public policy to a UK government inquiry, it might very well be coming. Amazon exec Paul Misener said, “The opening of a physical bookstore took some people by surprise. It is just a natural growth of wanting to serve our customers…We did not view that as such a big deal.” When asked if Amazon planned to open a branch of Amazon Books in the UK, he said it was too soon to know, and they would be waiting and seeing how the current locations did before making that decision. Misener also said that Amazon’s staff loves bookshops in general, and has done what it could to help them reach customers beyond their own local regions by making it possible for them to sell books via Amazon.
But Amazon Books isn’t the only way Amazon is blending e-commerce and brick-and-mortar commerce. Another Geekwire story, following up on one of Nate’s pieces at The Digital Reader, looks at a pilot program Amazon is trying with drugstores in Washington State, with display stands holding e-book-specific Amazon gift cards—physical items that can be redeemed for a specific e-book, or turned into general-purpose store credit if the e-book isn’t to the recipient’s taste. Also, if the price of the e-book should drop, the recipient will get the difference in store credit.
There’s not necessarily any guarantee these e-book gift cards will be expanded to other locations either—but it seems reasonable they could be if they go over well. They don’t require any new physical infrastructure, and lots of places already sell generic Amazon gift cards.
Between Amazon Books, Amazon’s e-book gift cards, and the Amazon pick-up locations Nate mentioned, it seems clear Amazon’s brick-and-mortar ambitions are only beginning. And if bookstores thought it was bad when they only had to compete with the on-line version of the site, something tells me their problems are just about to get a whole lot worse.
(Industry analyst Frank Catalano is not to be confused with the voice actor Frank Catalano, whose book I reviewed.)