As we first reported last week, Amazon is preparing to open a bookstore called Amazon Books in the Shops at Columbus Circle at the southwest corner of Central Park. The company put up a sign on the third floor on the north side of the mall announcing the store will open in the Spring. The Wall Street Journal reported that it will be 4,000 square feet.
It’s a somewhat odd spot, if only because the casual shopper is unlikely to stroll into the store. The Borders store in that same mall was in the middle of the second floor. But it’s sure to receive destination traffic from tourists and locals because of the novelty alone. Amazon! A real store!
There are three other Amazon bookstores right now — in Seattle, San Diego and Portland, Ore. — but this is the first one on the East coast. Its design is likely to surprise New York book-lovers. Here are some things we’ve learned from reviews of the company’s other stores.
- All of the books are shown face-forward, so that the stores actually don’t have as many books as similar bookstores might. In Portland, there are 5,200 books in 7,800 square feet. In a 4,000 square foot space, there are likely to be fewer than 3,000 titles, unless they change the design. The Strand (not a totally fair comparison, we know!) says it has 2.5 million.
- Each book has a mini-review under it from a reader at Amazon.com. Amazon ratings are a big part of the store design. In the Portland store, all of the books need to have Amazon ratings of 4 stars or more. It’s not clear if that will be the policy in New York too. The Seattle store highlights books with specific characteristics, like “debut novels with 4.5 stars or more.”
- The stores are relatively small, so they don’t seem as cavernous as a Barnes & Noble. But they’re not necessarily as cozy and homey as an independent store either. “This is no independent bookstore either in content or vibe: No handwritten shelf tags with staff recommendations — instead, it’s typewritten customer reviews — no genre specializations, and sadly, no bookstore cat.”
- There are likely to be some Amazon products in the store that you can test out, from different kinds of Kindles to the Amazon Echo home assistant to the Fire TV.
- Unlike most bookstores, Amazon encourages you to use your phone in the store. They want you to open the Amazon app and use it to scan bar codes next to the books to read reviews and see the price. The price isn’t on the book itself. Some people don’t like this: “Personally, I found it too time-consuming and annoying to have to walk around holding my phone in my hand.” But others do: “I had the complete opposite reaction. I thought it was great, in a way that only Amazon could make possible.”
- Amazon Prime members may get lower prices than non-Prime members. “Prices on all items for Amazon Prime members are the same as from Amazon.com. For customers who aren’t Prime members, Amazon devices are the same price as from Amazon.com; books and other items are sold at list price.”
- These factors make physical book-browsing somewhat similar to digital book-browsing, and some reviewers love the experience, like this guy at Geekwire. “The genius is that Amazon has neatly knocked down the virtual walls between online and physical retailing, carefully bringing online content and transactional expertise to what already works in in-person shopping. It just happens to be a bookstore. Four months in, the combo has gelled.”
No doubt the store will draw customers at first, if only for the novelty. But will it have staying power? Will New Yorkers embrace the Amazon Book experience?