Who would be foolish enough to open a new brick-and-mortar bookstore in the Age of Amazon? How about…
I first saw the story that Amazon was opening a brick-and-mortar bookstore in this
during my morning
Subsequent to flipping it into my Flipboard magazine, I saw a bunch of stories on it…and one of my regular readers and commenters, Lady Galaxy, alerted me to it a well.
That makes sense…it just seems so odd that Amazon would open a physical bookstore, at least at first blush.
There is this mythology (I don’t mean to make a judgement as to whether it’s true or not…just that there is a large set of beliefs) that Amazon has been killing physical bookstores. Why would that move into that market?
Well, I’m a former brick-and-mortar bookstore manager (and I think I can reasonably say a successful one), and I might be able to give you some insight.
First, I’ve been saying all along that physical bookstores can succeed, nay, thrive in this environment.
That doesn’t mean every physical bookstore.
The big stores that had volume as their main draw…those are doomed. You can’t compete with Amazon on volume with a physical store.
You can compete with them on experience.
Maybe that will change some day, when we have more robust virtual reality, but for now, there is something in the real world that online shopping doesn’t replicate.
Physical bookstores can, and do, succeed when people will happily pay more money than they would online, because they want to support the store.
That requires that the store has personality and is unique and that, yes, the customers trust the store.
Amazon can do that with “Amazon Books”.
The store will be informed by the website…cards will have online reviews, and at least some categories will be based on the website (“4.5 stars and above”).
However, there is a second, and really important point.
Amazon doesn’t need the physical store to make a profit.
It’s a showcase, not the whole floor.
One of the things they say they are going to do is “face” all of the books…that is, you’ll be able to see the cover on every book, not just the spine.
Quite simply, that’s a lot more expensive.
You are fighting three main things in a physical bookstore:
- “Shrinkage” (shoplifting, employee theft, and damage)
You are paying a lot more rent to sell a give title by having it faced. Of course, you can have more copies of a faced book…you might be able to have it four deep. Four spined books might take up the spot of one faced book.
If you want to have a lot of titles, though, you might traditionally only have one or two copies of some of them. That’s where spining books is cheaper.
Amazon is going to have a relatively small store with everything spaced, and a lot fewer titles than, say, a Barnes & Noble…but each one treated more lovingly (with more attention paid to it).
Shopping there (the store is in Seattle) will probably be one of those great experiences I mentioned. The employees will know the books well, in part because there won’t be as many of them, in part because they’ll have more data about them.
It’s going to be such a teeny tiny part of the business, though, that it will be freed of any requirement to make a profit. In a way, it will be like premium cable versus broadcast TV: a much smaller audience without the pressure of ratings.
With all of that said, I also won’t be shocked if Amazon does make a profit on this. Part of that will be their skill at inventory chain management. Yes, they sell out of things at the holidays, but their expertise with shipping (including using robots in the fulfillment centers) will make a huge difference.
Update: what about pricing? It’s the same as the website! NPR (which I was hearing in the Flash Briefing on our Amazon Echo (at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping*) did a piece on it…and it sounded like an employee was suggesting that a customer use a SmartPhone to pull up the price on a book in the store (presumably, by scanning the UPC…Universal Product Code…or something similar). That’s one of the challenges for the prices being the same as at the website. Prices at the website vary rapidly…if you have price stickers on the books, how are you going to update them? Do people just not know for sure what the price is until you are going to ring them up? Presumably so…
It’s a fascinating experiment! I think it’s really a pilot…if it succeeds, you might get an Amazon Books in your town. 🙂
Update: Reader Malcolm Northrup mentioned that a trip to Amazon Books in Seattle was possible, and I thought it would be great to get a field report! That goes for any of you who go to Amazon Books. I thought I’d add a few particular questions here, if you happen to notice:
- How was the Customer Service? Did staff answer any questions for you?
- Was there free wi-fi? (You would think they would have it, since this is at least partially a showcase for the website)
- What categories of books were towards the front of the store? Which ones were in the back?
- How was the stock level? Were there “wishing wells” of stacks of books on the floor? How many copies of a book were on a shelf?
- What advantages did you see in this store versus other bookstores? Technology, for example?
gives us more insight into the store itself.
One of the big questions for me was how they would deal with the fluctuating prices, since the physical store prices are the same as the web prices. Repricing books (with sticker guns) was a big burden when I managed a brick-and-mortar bookstore many years ago. Well, the books don’t have prices like that on them: you use your SmartPhone, and if you don’t have one, an associate helps you.
What do you think? If an Amazon Books opened in your town, would you visit it? What would make it attractive enough to make you to return to it? What impact will it have on other bookstores? Feel free to tell me and my reader what you think by commenting on this post.
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* I am linking to the same thing at the regular Amazon site, and at AmazonSmile. When you shop at AmazonSmile, half a percent of your purchase price on eligible items goes to a non-profit you choose. It will feel just like shopping at Amazon: you’ll be using your same account. The one thing for you that is different is that you pick a non-profit the first time you go (which you can change whenever you want)…and the good feeling you’ll get. Shop ’til you help!
This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog. To support this or other blogs/organizations, buy Amazon Gift Cards from a link on the site, then use those to buy your items. There will be no cost to you, and a benefit to them.