Amazon has long since changed the way people buy and sell books. Some brick-and-mortar bookstores have struggled to stay afloat, while Amazon has flourished online. Now the multibillion-dollar corporation is looking toward the past to find inspiration for the future. This year Amazon is opening a handful of brick-and-mortar stores, including one in the Time Warner Center at Columbus Circle in Manhattan and another set to open on 34th Street soon.
According to USA Today, the new 4,000-square-foot Amazon Books store in Columbus Circle is a way to extend the company's online brand in that people can buy books but also find Amazon's many gadgets, such as Kindle eReaders, Fire tablets, and the Echo smart-assistant device. Apparently, the store sells about 3,000 books at this time.
Amazon Books organizes in the traditional ways with aisles marked by genre or readership (e.g., Cooking, Kids, Science Fiction, Young Adults, and so on), but it also categorizes books into unique sections based on the profound amount of market research Amazon has gathered over two decades. For example, customers can find books on a wall among "Page Turners," books Kindle readers completed in three days or less, or they can peruse the "Highly Rated" section, which has books with a rating of 4.8 or higher on the company's website. Jennifer Cast, the vice president of Amazon Books, discussed the company's distinctive tactics toward the brick-and-mortar endeavors, saying,
We have this 20 years of information about books and ratings, and we have millions and millions of customers who are passionate. It really is a different way to surface great books. It reflects how people are reading, what they're reading, [and] why they're reading.
Reports about the Amazon Books sections seem to resemble how the company now uses its vast collection of statistics to create Amazon Charts, another new venture by the Seattle-based company. Amazon Charts looks at customer data from the browsing, buying, reading, and renting behaviors of customers and applies it to create lists that mirror those patterns and, perhaps, to give distinction to books not included on traditional lists such as The New York Times's Best Sellers list. Apparently, the new Amazon stores also make use of the data mining to build the Amazon Books sections of the storefront.
Jennifer Cast explained that the purpose for the retail stores is "discovery" because it gives customers a chance to walk around and encounter books in real life. At the same time, Cast called the store "a physical extension of Amazon.com," and indeed, the store has one glaring similarity to the online store: the currency it accepts. Apparently, the brick-and-mortar Amazon store does not accept cash; instead, customers must pay with credit cards or via the Amazon app linked to an online Amazon account. (Those poor sales associates must hate questions about that aspect.)
These days, about 50 percent of all books sold come from Amazon. So, it will be interesting to see how independent bookstores continue to adjust to the new Amazon-dominated industry. Plus, we will have to stay tuned to see how Amazon grows its data and lists over time and implements the research within its stores.