Yes, Amazon opened a retail store in Seattle this week. IC3 toured the new location yesterday. In this blogger’s opinion, the store reinforces Amazon’s web-first brand. The traditional retail industry is moving toward limited on-premise inventory backed by massive in-cloud inventory. The Amazon store is called Amazon Books and is located at an upscale shopping mall near the University of Washington.
There are only about 4,000 titles in the small- to mid-size store. That’s a low number for a bookshop. This reinforces a new direction in retail — a sophisticated hybrid of bricks and clicks. The physical store has a limited but well curated selection of inventory backed by the massive inventory of web fulfillment.
The new Amazon store is much like Bonobos or Marine Layer, new concepts in clothing retail with expensive build outs in fancy malls but limited on-premise inventory. In these stores you shop among the beautifully curated items on display but fulfillment is generally an electronic transaction to have the item mailed to you. In other words, not necessarily instant gratification. While you can walk out of Amazon Books with a book in your hands, many will complete transactions in the store that don’t require a shopping bag. If you’re old enough to remember them, the Sears Catalog Stores used a similar model in the 1970s.
Will it work? It’s too early to tell if this will scale to other communities. This particular shopping mall previously had a Barnes & Noble put out of business by web-based book sales, among other things. The mall is located in Seattle’s most literate neighborhood, with professors and PhD candidates living cheek to jowl in student housing and high density neighborhoods. These people have been wandering the mall aimlessly since the Barnes & Noble closed. Now they have a place to gather.