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Chris Baldwin
VP Client Services

Amazon Books: No Longer Just for Web

Judging a Bookstore By its Covers

The last few decades have seen dramatic shifts in the how and where books are bought, sold and read. After years of delivering blows to big-box bookstores, Amazon itself is rising from the retail rubble it helped create.

The company’s new high-profile retail store breathes new life into the largely defunct concept of new-only bookstores and once again makes a play at upending consumer perception. This digital brand’s first physical retail environment recently came to life in University Village, a premium, outdoor mall just a quick trip away from downtown Seattle.

A mixed reception

While the environment is undeniably, unmistakably bookstore, the customer perception has not been completely favorable. From Dustin Kurtz at New Republic,

University Book Store—begun by students in 1900—is just up the road from University Village, and while they serve superficially different markets, it’s difficult not to see Amazon’s choice of location as yet another act of aggression toward indie bookstores, whose owners and employees are particularly suspicious of the company’s motives.

Amazon isn’t known for its subtlety, or for bending to the opinions of others, especially small businesses.

Taking the democracy out of book shopping

The selection of books--chosen for ranking four stars or higher on the store as not just any bookstore. This feature takes the democracy out of book shopping, but you won’t hear complaints from a customer hoping to achieve the simple task of finding a good book to read.

One of the most striking details of Amazon Books was the placement of the books--covers facing out, rather than spine out. The books appeared elevated, premium, mystical, as if placed on a pedestal. The white space around each book brought calm to the varied and busy covers. The presentation helped foster a consumer perception that believed Amazon Books was approachable, yet elegant. This allows shoppers to choose a book by its cover, quite literally.

Notably, many of the books are priced at a discount, though not as steeply discounted as, where one can find unsettlingly cheap reads.

A store largely free of gimmicks, the high quality, authentic materials and custom details like crafted shelf tags give a visually interesting, premium touch. There was a welcome lack of meaningless digital signage and little attempt to reinvent the bookstore atmosphere with dramatic architectural ideas.

The store felt welcoming, even nostalgic. To strike a balance between the unique and the familiar is a feat in itself. Amazon has been a pioneering company from the start, a master in the direct-to-consumer online experience, and now showing signs that they can provide the same experience to brick and mortar.

Read on...