Amazon recently announced it would open its second retail store in San Diego, Calif. at the Westfield UT mall near the UC San Diego campus. Amazon previously opened its first brick-and-mortar store in the company’s hometown of Seattle, Wash. The store is located in Seattle’s upscale University Village mall, located near the University of Washington Campus.
I decided to spend an afternoon browsing the Seattle location to see what the buzz is all about. Here are the pros and cons I’ve determined from my trip to Amazon Books.
My first impression walking into the Amazon Books store was that you needed to have the Amazon app to even be in there. This is because there are no price tags on books; rather, you’re supposed to use the Amazon app to scan barcodes for the Amazon price.
Though I downloaded the app, I quickly saw a price check box, which allows you to check prices without having the app. This is a nice convenience for someone who doesn’t regularly use the Amazon app. You can purchase books directly through the Amazon app if you want them shipped to you, or, you can simply walk up to a register and purchase. One important note is that the price of the books in store is exactly the same as books sold online.
Though the Amazon app is not required, it does provide a rather unique shopping experience. The Amazon app has a scanner tool, which allows you to point at any book in the store and get more information. You can point the scanner at the barcode or the title page of the book to locate it in the Amazon online store. Once the app has found the book, you’re viewing a normal Amazon item page, complete with the pricing, reviews, and a checkout button.
The space itself looks similar to a Barnes and Noble, but a little more upscale and not quite as big. In fact, the store only holds about 6,000 books, which is much less than a Barnes and Noble. One thing I noticed is that the area around the register is rather small, which I assume is because Amazon doesn’t want long lines to form. The better question still may be the following: Why stand in line and pay for your books in person, when you could have Amazon Prime deliver it to your home?
On shelves, books are set up with their covers facing out, rather than their spines. Amazon says they did this to provide a more appealing browsing experience, and I think there is some truth to that. Under each title there’s a card with a quote from an Amazon customer review, as well as the book’s star rating. I got the sense Amazon only offers books with a 4.5 star rating or higher in the store.
Moreover, there are various Amazon curated sections, including: “Recent Books of the Month on Amazon.com,” “4.5 Stars & Above,” as well as a section titled “Books That Inspired Amazon Originals,” showcasing the books that lead to Amazon TV shows or movies. I was also excited to see a section for local books by Seattle authors. However, there did not seem to be a section for Amazon published books, which I thought was odd.
Imagine how annoying it is in everyday life when you’re stuck around a bunch of people staring down at their phones—now cram all those people into a bookstore and encourage them to do so.
Though you don’t have to use the Amazon app, I noticed a lot of people were using it. When people are browsing, they’ll stop in the middle of the aisle to scan the book titles on their phone. In some cases, I think the person was actually reading all the information about the book on their phone, rather than, you know, actually reading the book they’re holding. If you’re an impatient person, you’ve been warned.
There are three reading areas in the store: one in the children’s section, a few chairs by the door when you walk in, and a comfortable bench along the windows for those wanting to post up and read for a bit. On these benches, Amazon actually has their Fire Tablets set up for you to use for browsing the Amazon online store. Note: there is free Wi-Fi to allow you to do so, as well as outlets for you to charge your devices.
When Amazon first announced the Amazon Book store, many people were probably confused as to why the e-commerce giant would need, or want, a physical store. I’m convinced this is one big, expensive marketing campaign for the Amazon Kindle because there were so many posters advertising it in the store. In fact, similar to how an Apple store is set up, there’s an area where you can touch and demo Amazon Kindles and Fire Tablets. This actually made me laugh, but while browsing a line of books, an Amazon Kindle was slyly placed in the middle of the bookshelf, hoping to sway you into buying a Kindle instead of an actual book.
Overall, the store functions like your one-stop shop for all things Amazon. Similar to why you’d go to an Apple store to get help at a genius bar, test new products or buy Apple accessories, you get pretty much all of that at Amazon Books. There’s an “Amazon Answers” desk where you can get help with your products or ask any Amazon-related questions. I also found the Amazon Associates to be super friendly and on standby to help any guest.
Unless you’re a loyal Amazon customer, there’s not really much of a point to going here. I can totally see how the store’s location benefits the students at the University of Washington, given its proximity. And, if I were a super fan of Amazon, I’d probably love being able to go in store and play around with the gadgets and walk around with my smartphone. But, I’m just not that person and Amazon couldn’t convince me to buy anything while I was in the store. Maybe that’s because I don’t use Amazon regularly, or maybe it’s because I have a bookstore near my apartment where I can accomplish pretty much the same thing, minus the ability to browse with an app.
If you’re a loyal Amazon customer, this place really will be a haven for you. Not only can you buy Amazon books, but also you can buy and test out a variety of Amazon electronics, including the Fire TV, which is set up in the middle of the store for kids to play videogames on and adults to demo. There’s also sections set up for demoing the Amazon Echo speaker, Amazon Fire Tablet and Amazon Kindle.
I wouldn’t say it’s worth flying out to view one of Amazon’s two retail locations, but, if you live near one and love Amazon, you’ll probably have a fun time exploring Amazon Books at least once.