Last week I visited Amazon Books in Dedham, MA, one of the online giant’s 13 physical retail locations.
I was intrigued to see what Amazon.com would do with a physical bookstore. I didn’t know what to expect, but my initial thoughts jumped to the scene from 40 Year Old Virgin where Jonah Hill tries to buy something at an “eBay store.”
The experience was great from the beginning. We were greeted by a cheerful employee who asked if we had been in an Amazon Books before. She wasn’t a “greeter,” but she took a few minutes from her duties to tell us about the store.
Amazon uses its online data to select items for the store that are popular and/or highly rated. And it changes the inventory pretty regularly. She explained that there aren’t any prices on items, so you need to use your Amazon.com app to see how much things cost. And the prices are considerably lower if you have Amazon Prime account. You actually get the same price as you would online.
You then need to show your app at check out to get the Amazon Prime pricing. <Yes, you need to go in line and check out with a person.>
The store was filled with interesting books and a wide variety of other items. And, of course, there was also a giant display for Echo and a Peet’s coffee shop. It was a fun place to browse. I ended up buying a gift that I needed for our family’s annual Thanksgiving Yankee Swap.
My Take: Other than the process with the app, the experience was not that much different than what I’ve had at Borders or Barnes & Nobles bookstores in the past (before many of those stores closed because of Amazon.com’s online success).
So what’s the real difference with Amazon Books? Analytics and Amazon Prime!
If Amazon can use its vast purchase and review data to uncover the best items for each of its locations (based on popularity and preferences by zip codes), then Amazon Books should become a pretty fun place to visit. It won’t need massive stores, as long as it can apply it’s analytics wizardry to keep local inventories stocked with the things that people in each location are most likely to buy.
Amazon Prime may be a product that people purchase, but it’s really the underpinnings to a wonderfully designed loyalty architecture. Rather than offering points and periodic discounts, Amazon Prime keeps adding new forms of value (free shipping, better prices) and experiences (videos, music, retail). Amazon Books is an extension of that loyalty platform—providing yet another reason for customers to cherish Amazon Prime and only purchase from Amazon.
I also expect Amazon to raise the bar on the integration between digital and physical experiences by deploying tools such as self checkout, in-store recommendations, and digital purchases (e.g., purchase the song playing in the store). I hope that the company pushes the envelope on new experiences, and doesn’t fall into the trap of just viewing them as a distribution channel. If so, Amazon Books may provide some interesting glimpses into the future of the retail industry.
The bottom line: Amazon Books is currently a novelty, but it might ultimately transform retailing.