On Tuesday, Amazon, the largest bookseller in the world, did something it has never done: it sold a book to a customer face-to-face. Despite appearances Amazon Books, the company's first branded retail storefront, is a far cry from the bookstore as we know it.
The store, which is situated in an outdoor mall across the street from the University of Washington campus, is unlike the grandiose retail book palaces that Barnes and Noble and Borders built in the late 1990s and with 5,000 to 6,000 titles on hand, Amazon Books stocks far fewer titles than today's bigger bookstores. Small and scaled back, Amazon Books is cleanly designed and easy-to-navigate.
The inventory is mostly books, with some magazines and a central aisle of electronics featuring the company's Kindle, Kindle Fire and FireTV devices. Book selection is deepest in bookstore strongholds: children's, young adult, bestsellers and genre fiction. The store also features a respectable graphic novel selection, and a shelf of work by local authors.
Despite the initial look and feel of a 20th century bookstore, a closer look at Amazon Books reveals that it's very much a 21st century endeavor.
Every book is tagged with a custom label featuring its aggregate rating on Amazon.com, along with a review from the website. To get a book's price, you must use the Amazon app on your smartphone to scan the barcode. This act will provide you with the product listing, all the title's reviews on Amazon.com, and the price. If you don’t have a smartphone or the app handy, associates are on hand to assist. There are also price check stations throughout the store.
An associate at the store also confirmed what many news reports about Amazon Books have stated, that the store only stocks books with Amazon.com ratings of four stars and above. In addition to using the rating system for its book selections, Amazon also considers pre-orders, sales, popularity on Goodreads, and the assessment of its booksellers. The associate also confirmed that prices for books in the store are identical to those of the books sold online. And, since book prices on Amazon.com can fluctuate regularly, so can prices in the store. The associate said one thing they are vigilant about in the store is ensuring customers don't get confused by receiving different price quotes at different times.
The store, which aims to seamlessly transition the online shopping experience to a real world scenario, allows you to use credits associated with your account at the register. However, you cannot order merchandise online and have it delivered to the store.
Amazon has been tight-lipped about its retail plans beyond this location, while also hinting to the press that it intends to open more bricks-and-mortar stores. Whatever the company's plans are with physical retailing, it's clear Amazon's goal is about much more than just selling books.
This story has been updated to reflect new information.