I recently had the opportunity to visit the Amazon Bookstore in Manhattan (there will be a second one in a couple months) and was surprised by how much I enjoyed it after reading some ambivalent reviews from mainstream sources.
The primary complaints seem to be:
- You have to pay list price for the books unless you are an Amazon Prime member (i.e. The physical stores are really an avenue to push Prime sign ups, though no employee would probably actually say this).
- The stores stock “only” about 3,000 titles (because covers–not spines–face out on the shelves).
Personally, I loved the set-up of the store. I think there’s a benefit to being able to really see a curated selection of books, rather than getting stuck staring at the spines of 10,000 books I was never interested in buying anyway. So, no, I wouldn’t go to a physical Amazon store to purchase something very specific or obscure. Yet the experience of browsing is easy and a ton of fun. The books are easy to see and recognize, they’re sorted into fun categories like “Books readers finished in under 3 days,” and you know everything in the store received 4 stars or higher than Amazon. (Though an employee clarified the ratings are taken not from Amazon.com as a whole, but from users who live near the geographic area where the store is located.) I would 100% consider coming here to purchase something mainstream or to just look around and purchase something that caught my eye.
The store does have some non-book merchandise (board games, tech gadgets, colored pencils, etc.), but, percentage-wise, the focus seems on books. For instance, there was a small case containing maybe six different Funko Pop characters–as opposed to the hundreds you can find in a large Barnes & Noble. Beyond these random items, there is, of course, a full corner of the store dedicated to Amazon’s own tech–Kindles, TVs, the Amazon Echo, etc. All these are displayed so you can test them out, and there are employees dedicated to answering questions about just these.
I didn’t purchase anything from the store, but the ease of the process seems as though it can vary. If you have the Amazon app on your phone and belong to Amazon Prime, you should be able to show that to the cashier and get the Amazon discounted price on the product. If you’re not a Prime member and don’t want to sign up or get the free trial, you’re going to pay the list price of the books. The store does not accept cash at all, and you’re supposed to have the credit card listed on your Prime account with you. (So my friends and I watched another customer struggle while he explained that his wife belongs to Prime, but the credit card listed on the account is also hers, and he wasn’t carrying it. I’m not sure what the outcome of this case was.)
You also can only sign up for Student Prime online, so my friend was unable to join in-store when she made her purchases. However, Amazon really, really wants you to join Prime, so if you do pay list price in the store, you can always sign up for Prime later and then use a code on your receipt to get a refund for the difference between the price you paid and the Amazon.com discounted price. (I suspect this is part of the reason the store does not accept cash.)
Yet, whatever hiccups there are with ease of paying, I suspect Amazon will soon iron them out. Whatever your opinion of the company is, I think most people agree they’re efficient and good at getting what they want–which, in this case, is people using Prime to pay for items in a physical store.
I was half-expecting to dislike the store (because if you think of it as mainly a front to bribe people into getting Prime, it does seem mercenary). However, the experience of walking around the store and browsing was really great, and I would have been interested in buying tons of the books if I weren’t trying to save up some money. Selection wasn’t a problem and, come on, you can buy anything obscure you want from Amazon’s website anyway. The employees were also incredibly helpful and seemed excited to be working there. One compared the vibe of the store to that of an indie bookstore, and while it’s kind of laughable to put Amazon and indies into the same category, I kind of see what meant. I would definitely be interested in going back.
Have you been to any of the Amazon bookstores? Would you be interested in visiting one?