retail news in context, analysis with attitude

The New Yorker has an interesting story about Amazon's test bricks-and-mortar store in Seattle, which is described as a sort of Starbucks combined with the presentation aesthetic of the company's website: "the books are all shelved cover-out, just as they appear on Amazon, and the relative prominence, proportion of stock, and pricing of best-sellers and recommended titles, including the little cardboard signs excerpting each book’s online user reviews and ratings, are calibrated to correspond exactly to what you would find online.

But it also, the story suggests, something else: "Suspended somewhere between a tangible (albeit exquisitely staged) reality of paper and wood, and a perceptible (albeit artfully obscured) reality of pipes and machinery, the bookstore customer is able to experience a curated version of the ethical and visceral tension between front-of-house and back-of-house—between the sleek one-click seamlessness of the screen and the unceasing labor of the fulfillment center—as a kind of pleasure."

You can read the entire analysis here.
KC's View:
As it happens, there were a couple of other stories about the bookstore business over the past few days illustrating two ends of the bricks-and-mortar business.

One, in the Washington Post, was about how used bookstores, "with their quintessential quirkiness, eclectic inventory and cheap prices," are finding new energy because they offer "shoppers both a browsing experience and a money-saving one." The other was in the Los Angeles Times, and was about how a "Barnes & Noble store in New Hartford, N.Y., has applied for a beer and wine license from the state, the New Republic reports. The retailer will gauge the response from the community to determine whether to start selling booze in their other stores."

It seems to me that the reason that the used bookstores are finding traction is that they actually are offering something different. As for Barnes & Noble, all I can do is wonder what the hell took them so long.

In the scheme of things, Amazon generally can be counted upon to do something different. And we'll rarely wonder what the hell took them so long to do something. I look forward to seeing what they're doing in Seattle ... because what they'll be doing is rethinking the bricks-and-mortar experience, not just doing what others are doing.