It’s taken 20 years, but Amazon.com (AMZN) has discovered the benefits of brick-and-mortar bookstores.
The online retailer, which went into business in 1995 mostly selling books online, is opening its first ever physical bookstore on Tuesday. The shop, called Amazon Books, is located in the University Village area of Seattle, Amazon’s hometown.
“Amazon Books is a physical extension of Amazon.com. We’ve applied 20 years of online bookselling experience to build a store that integrates the benefits of offline and online book shopping,” said Jennifer Cast, vice president of Amazon Books, in a letter to customers.
In addition to books, the Amazon store will offer a place for customers to try out Amazon devices such as Kindle, Echo, Fire TV, and Fire Tablet gadgets. Amazon staff will be on hand to answer questions and demonstrate the products, much as counterparts at Apple’s (AAPL) stores do and as Barnes & Noble (BKS) does with its “Nook” areas.
But Amazon Books won’t be your typical bookstore, For one thing, Amazon will use data from its web site like customer ratings, sales totals, and Goodread popularity ratings to decide which books to stock. It will, however, also consult flesh and blood book experts to curate the selection. For another, Amazon’s store will present books face out, rather than spine out, and put up a sign for each one with its Amazon.com rating and an actual customer review.
There is a certain irony to Amazon’s embrace of brick and mortar bookstores after all these years. The retailer’s ascent eliminated many bookstores, notably the Borders chain that went out of business in 2011. The online giant now commands a market share of about 30% of books sold in the U.S.
Barnes & Noble has fared better than other bookstore chains, and its core book sales are on the upswing again. Still, the largest U.S. bookstore chain, with about 650 stores, has been closing about 20 stores annually in recent years to steady its business.
But Amazon’s move also comes at a time when e-book growth appears to be slowing, with rates similar to those of physical books. And so Amazon will come first circle if this store, which is not a pop-up, succeeds and the company opens more: growing via old fashioned bookstores of the kind it has helped put out of business.