Published on: April 14, 2016
This commentary is available as both text and video; enjoy both or either ... they are similar, but not exactly the same. To see past FaceTime commentaries, go to the MNB Channel on YouTube.
Hi, Kevin Coupe here and this is faceTime with the Content Guy ... coming to you this week from University Village in Seattle, Washington, home of the very first Amazon Books store.
Now, I have to be honest. While I was looking forward to seeing this store, I had my doubts. I've always been skeptical about the speculation that Amazon would get into the bricks-and-mortar retailing business. I'm not sure it is where Amazon wants to be. I'm not sure it is where Amazon should be. But I definitely wanted to see what Amazon was up to, and if it might be scalable.
Let me be honest again. I'm really, really impressed with this store. There are pictures below the video box that will give you a sense of it, but let me give you my impressions.
The store isn't very big, and it is chock full of books ... but it also is chock full of customers. Some of this is location - in a very popular shipping center, right in the shadow of the University of Washington. Some of it is natural curiosity - the Amazon brand name has a lot of sex appeal, especially here, in its home town.
But while that might be while people are walking in the front door, that doesn't explain while they're staying. perusing. And buying. Definitely buying.
People are going into the store and perusing the limited assortment that the store carries - all books classified as best sellers on Amazon's web site. They're reading the online user reviews that Amazon is posting beneath each title. They're settling back on some of the furniture to thumb through books in the same way they might at a typical mainstream bookstore.
They may be coming in for the books, but they're also, from all the evidence, spending considerable time looking at the Amazon technology that is on display - Kindles, Fire TVs, Echoes, tablets, etc... all products that people can play with to their hearts' content. And keep in mind that when people buy any of these products, they're being sucked little by little, more and more, into the Amazon ecosystem ... because all of these pieces of equipment are designed to make it easier or easiest to buy pretty much anything from Amazon.
Now, not everybody gets it. There was one old guy who clearly wanted to test the concept, and he asked if they had "Jonathan Livingston Seagull" in stock. They checked on their tablet computers and said they did not, but would be happy to order it for delivery to his home. And he sort of snorted and said, "How can you be a bookstore if you don't have 'Jonathan Livingston Seagull?'" (Which I thought was a sort of silly question since I don't think anyone has read "Jonathan Livingston Seagull" since 1978, and it clearly indicated he did not get the whole notion of synergy between a bricks-and-mortar retailer and an online store.)
One of the things that I found to be unexpectedly enticing about the store was the staff - these were high-caliber, friendly, informative young people working the store, and they help to make the experience unique. Which is a little surprising since Jeff Bezos is know for liking business models with as few actual humans as possible. But the folks in Amazon Books are so great they ought to be cloned. (Though maybe we don't want to give Bezos any ideas...)
In short, Amazon Books is a highly engaging store that manages, despite some similarities to traditional bookstores and formats such as the Apple Store, to feel entirely original. (Not imitative, which is usually how the Microsoft Store feels.)
Will they have 200, 300, or 400 of these? I have no idea. I don't think this format is made for every location, but I can see it being entirely appropriate for a number of very specific locations. I could also see them using the template to build an Amazon Fresh prototype, maybe selling fresh foods provided by outside purveyors within the four walls, and then having a delivery bay outside where one could pick up packaged products that had been pre-ordered online because there's no reason to have them on customer-facing shelves.
At any rate, this clearly is a test of how far and wide Amazon can grow its ecosystem. Equally clearly, it reflects the likelihood that Amazon believes that there is a lot of consumer territory yet to claim.
That's what is on my mind this Thursday morning. As always, I want to hear what is on your mind.
- KC's View: