Future civilizations may well mark this as the beginning of the end: The Internet taking up actual real estate.
Earlier this month, Amazon opened its first retail location in Colorado at 2787 East Second Avenue in Cherry Creek North. When we stopped by Amazon Books on March 12, at the end of its first week of operation (and the day before the Bomb Cyclone), the employees outnumbered patrons. The space is small but sunny, and well organized if uninspired. There are some nice touches, like digital price tags on the shelves so that prices can change with the speed of the Internet, and displays that place cookbooks next to cutting boards and can openers and other cooking paraphernalia that you might need. The staffers were helpful and cheery, and while the selection of books isn't as wide as you'd find elsewhere, it does seem to hit the highlights, essentially carrying the books that would be on display in other bookstores. But despite its name, this store is about far more than books; there are iRobots and television sets and Kindle tablets and cards and wrapping paper and “gifts for grown-ups” and some toys and games and gadgets. In short, it’s like a Costco, only you trade the groceries for books and reduce the size of the store — and the inventory — by at least a factor of ten. Frankly, the store is a lot like much of the Internet: smooth and shiny, potentially useful, and instantly forgettable.
Even so, the viability of Amazon Books is bolstered by all the losses that Cherry Creek North has seen in the relatively recent past. If Tattered Cover still had its flagship store there — no chance. But it moved to Colfax. Kazoo & Company closed up shop. Wizard’s Chest moved to Broadway. And on, and on. Amazon Books is, at least, a place where you can once again buy some of the things those stores stocked, but other offerings are a mystery. What’s the point of Amazon Books having a small but significant selection of culinary tools in a neighborhood that has Sur La Table?
We had other questions, but when we tried to speak with someone official at the store about what Amazon is trying to accomplish in its Cherry Creek North digs, we were told that they were "filtering everything" through the PR department.” So we reached out to Amazon PR, and spoke briefly with a representative who wanted to be identified as an Amazon Spokesperson. It may have been Alexa; we don’t really know how deep this once-digital, now-physical move on Amazon’s part really goes.
Westword: What's the brand strategy of opening up real brick-and-mortar stores here and nationally?
Amazon Spokesperson: As is true across all of our businesses, we innovate on behalf of customers where we see opportunities to deliver something different or better to meet a need, including physical stores. We want to give customers the choice to shop when, where and how it makes sense for them. For example, we opened Amazon Books to deliver a new way for customers to discover great new books and a new way to learn about devices.
And what's the philosophy overall? What does this store offer to customers that they couldn't get in same-day or two-day shipping?
Amazon Books is a customer-focused store, designed to spur discovery, a place where customers can find great books and learn more about our devices. Amazon Books is a physical extension of Amazon.com; we’ve applied over twenty years of online bookselling and retailing experience to build a store that integrates the benefits of offline and online shopping. We wanted to create a great customer experience where customers could come in, take their time browsing great books and feel confident in their selections, because everything in the store is highly rated. Because we are limited by physical space, we have curated our stores to only carry books, devices, toys and games that our customers love. All of the books, devices, toys, games and other products in our stores are selected by our team of curators.
How are the choices made by your curators as to what to stock?
We have a team of curators that study the information behind what people are reading, how they are reading and what they are loving, to bring forward a highly curated selection of books that customers will love. They use Amazon.com customer ratings, reviews, pre-orders, sales, popularity on Goodreads, Kindle reading behavior and their own expertise to inform their selections. All the products in our store are either rated 4 stars or higher, are bestsellers, or are new releases.
How did the Cherry Creek store fare in its opening week? Any numbers on customers or sales we can report?
We’ve heard from customers that they are excited that we are open and to shop our highly rated selection. In particular, we’ve heard from customers that they love our features like “Most-Wished-For” and “Read Around Denver,” and enjoy testing out the new Kindle Paperwhite.
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News dropped recently that the pop-up stores would be closing by the end of April; the one in the Cherry Creek mall is already shuttered. How did that pop-up experiment go? How did that experience affect the move to go to a stand-alone store with a larger footprint?
Across our Amazon network, we regularly evaluate our businesses to ensure we’re making thoughtful decisions around how we can best serve our customers and allocate our resources effectively. After much review, we came to the decision to discontinue our pop-up kiosk program, and are instead expanding Amazon Books and Amazon 4-star, where we provide a more comprehensive customer experience and broader selection. We look forward to opening additional locations of both stores this year.
Independent bookstores in the past competed with Amazon by virtue of their physical presence; what's Amazon's message to them?
We all want the same thing: to put great books into the hands of readers. All bookstores have unique offerings, and we are applying our twenty years of online retailing to give customers more information to help them discover books our customers have loved. At the end of the day, more options means more books in the hands of more readers.