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Amazon Opens First Permanent Brick And Mortar Bookstore In Seattle

Nov 3, 2015
Originally published on November 9, 2015 5:19 pm
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For a long time, bookstores have worried about Amazon putting them out of business. And lots of bookstores, big and small, have shut down. Those that have survived have been feeling more secure lately. Traditional book sales are doing well. But, there's something new to worry about. Amazon opened its first permanent bookstore - meaning, one you can walk into - in its hometown of Seattle today. NPR's Lynn Neary reports.

LYNN NEARY, BYLINE: The question is, why?

JENNIFER CAST: The short answer is, why not?

NEARY: Jennifer Cast is vice president of Amazon Books.

CAST: We love bookstores. Books is in our DNA. We are really excited about taking the information we have about books - the reviews, the customer ratings, the sales data - and bringing that information inside the store.

NEARY: The idea, says Cast, is to integrate the best parts of online shopping with the best parts of the bookstore experience. Cast says the books in the store are selected based on Amazon.com's presales figures and customer reviews. When you walk into the store, she says, you'll notice something different - all the books face out.

CAST: We could've packed a lot more books in this store if we had chosen to put them spine out. But instead, almost every book is cover out, and beneath every book is what we call a review card. They include the star rating - so we have millions of customers who are passionate about books who tell us what they think.

ANDREA ROE: And if you have the Amazon app...

NEARY: In Seattle this morning, customers were getting introduced to some of the store's unique features. While traditional brick-and-mortar stores have often been frustrated when customers browse through their bookshelves and then compare prices to Amazon's on their cell phones, the Seattle store's booksellers, like Andrea Roe, encourage customers to use their smartphones.

ROE: If you have that, take a picture of this and it will bring up the price because all the prices on the books are the Amazon online pricing.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Oh, it is?

ROE: Yeah.

NEARY: So far, Seattle has the only brick-and-mortar Amazon store. But Maxwell Gregory, manager of the Lake Forest Book Store in Illinois, is casting a wary eye on the enterprise.

MAXWELL GREGORY: If you're going to open one, what's to say they're not going to open another?

NEARY: Gregory says the Amazon store has some features that would be pretty hard for a small independent store to imitate.

GREGORY: The model of having every book face out would be a wonderful thing if everybody could do that. But, you know, when you have to pay to have a bricks and mortar store, and you want to have, you know, a wide selection of books, that really unfortunately is not a luxury that you can have.

NEARY: More importantly, Gregory says, Amazon's ability to offer deep discounts on books makes it impossible for other stores to compete on prices.

GREGORY: I think if they are going to do bricks and mortar, they should, you know, not have that availability to undercut other retailers. But, you know, there's nothing we can really do to compete with that and still stay viable in a bricks and mortar store.

NEARY: Gregory says if in the future an Amazon store opens nearby, she's hopeful that her customers will remain loyal. Meanwhile, Amazon's Jennifer Cast is hopeful the Seattle store succeeds so there can be more Amazon stores in the future. Lynn Neary, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.