Amazon’s first New York City bookstore, Amazon Books, will open on Thursday morning, marking Amazon’s highest-profile move into bricks-and-mortar retail to date.
With over 3,000 titles on sale, the Columbus Circle store is one of two stores planned for the Big Apple, and six that are already open around the U.S. By displaying ratings and reviews, the store leverages Amazon’s 20 years of book-selling data, in many ways mimicking the experience of Amazon.com.
Amazon Books divides books into sections by what is popular nearby and what is read fastest on Kindle. In the most popular area of the store, books are displayed on shelves in groupings that often recommended together online.
A customer review, the number of total Amazon.com reviews and a star rating are displayed under each book on the shelf.
All the books in the store either received four-star ratings and above on Amazon.com, or come from lists of best sellers or a hand-curated selection of new, yet-to-be reviewed titles.
Amazon even selected the Columbus Circle neighborhood on Manhattan’s west side based on data about nearby book purchases, Kindle ownership and Prime membership, in addition to factors like foot traffic and tourism, according to Jennifer Cast, vice president of Amazon Books.
Online shopping tends to be driven by searches for products that users already know about, Cast said. But the brick-and-mortar locations aim to provide a “mecca of discovery” for book lovers, Cast said. The books all have the covers, not the spines, facing out, to encourage browsing —even though the store could have fit as many as 5,000 more titles if books were displayed the conventional way, Cast said.
The store also provides a strong incentive for customers to join Amazon’s online loyalty program, Prime — a program that analysts say prompts more spending on Amazon.com. Though it’s possible to check out like a regular bookstore, Amazon Books offers significant discounts to Amazon Prime members who make purchases through the app.
It’s all part of Amazon’s push to give consumers new ways to shop with more information and flexibility, Cast said.
Using a camera within the app, consumers can scan their purchases, opting to either have them shipped or scanned by the cashier. There’s also an electronics section with Amazon’s Kindles and Echos, and more technology-inspired products are coming, including more integration with audiobooks on Audible, Cast said.
Amazon first made its name selling books, but the bookstores are far from its only brick-and-mortar experiment. The company also has plans for convenience stores and grocery stores that use cutting-edge technologies like computer vision.
Amazon’s new store, which opens at 10 a.m. ET on Thursday, will open as many big retailers are closing their physical locations and moving online. Retailer Bebe decided last month to close all its stores, and JCPenney kicked off liquidation sales this week ahead of the closure of 138 stores.
Analysts say that Amazon stands to benefit most from some of the pain in the retail industry. Cantor Fitzgerald Amazon analyst Naved Khan noted that store closures announcements this year are two times higher than a year ago, amid competitive advantages for Amazon.
Publishers also complain that as more books appear on Amazon, it’s harder to pay authors and dampens demand for risky or unusual books.
But Cast said the “small but great” store represents Amazon’s philosophy of using “data with heart.” Rather than rely on just a few book store employees to cater to everyone’s taste, “we let our customers be the voice,” Cast said.