A customer browses at the Amazon Books store in Seattle, Washington, U.S., on Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2015.
Photograph by David Ryder—Bloomberg via Getty Images

It opened its first location in Seattle last year.

By Claire Zillman
August 26, 2016

Amazon.com—whose empire was built around the idea of selling products online—is continuing its counterintuitive march into the brick-and-mortar bookstore business. Its next market will be Chicago.

The e-commerce giant confirmed plans for a fourth physical location in the city’s Lakeview neighborhood on Thursday, according to published reports.

Last November, Amazon opened its first bookstore in the University Village area of Seattle, the company’s hometown, touting it as “a physical extension of Amazon.com.” At the time, Jennifer Cast, vice president of Amazon Books told customers that the retailer “applied 20 years of online bookselling experience to build a store that integrates the benefits of offline and online book shopping.”

It’s not a typical bookstore. The company uses data from its website, such as customer ratings, sales totals, and Goodread popularity ratings, to decide what books to stock on shelves, and it consults human book experts to curate the selection. The stores present books in a more eye-catching fashion with the covers facing out—versus being stacked spine-out—and present information about each book’s Amazon.com rating and an actual customer review. Customers can also demo Amazon devices such as the Kindle and Echo in stores.

Shortly after the Seattle opening, there were rumors that Amazon had plans to open as many as 400 physical stores based on comments by a shopping mall CEO. But Sandeep Mathrani of General Growth Properties later walked back his remarks, saying they did not accurately represent Amazon’s retail plans.

 

Nevertheless, CEO Jeff Bezo promised shareholders in May that Amazon would open more physical locations, and in recent months the company has confirmed two more bookstores—one in San Diego and another in Portland, Ore. There’s speculation another location could pop up in New York.

Amazon’s move into brick-and-mortar may seem odd for the online retailer whose ascent put plenty of bookstores out of business, but there’s some logic to the strategy. Readers still have strong interest in paper books, and the locations serve as a place for customers to browse real-life books, and—perhaps more importantly—test Amazon devices before purchasing.

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