Now Amazon, the online shopping giant that transformed the way people buy, well, almost everything, is taking its next leap forward. The only problem? This step into the future is very much like the past.
Starting today, shoppers at Columbus Circle can search for books at the company’s first physical store in New York. A total of thirteen such outlets are expected to open by the end of the year.
Back to the future?
Rather than breaking the mold in terms of design, the company’s latest venture into real-world retail looks pretty much what you’d expect from a bookstore, with soft lighting, tables full of suggested titles, and customers who browse quietly.
Of course, this being Amazon, there are innovative touches. The store is completely cashless. Shoppers use their phones to check prices, then check themselves at self-service kiosks. If you are an Amazon Prime member, you get the same price as if you paid online. Non-members pay full retail price.
The book displays are based on Amazon’s massive trove of data. Looking for something to read at the beach, for example? Then check out the bookshelf of books Kindle readers have devoured in three days or less.
But despite this sprinkling of high-tech features, the collective reaction from reporters who spotted the shoreline yesterday was pretty much “meh.” Here is Dan Frommer’s main impression of Recode (his article is full of photos if you’re interested): “It looks like a normal mall bookstore.” He goes on to say:
I wouldn’t be surprised if there weren’t some behind-the-scenes efficiencies that could possibly make this a better business for Amazon than brick-and-mortar bookstores have been for bookstore businesses. (It doesn’t feel massively oversized, for one thing.)
But there is nothing really special – not yet, at least… There is no cafe, not really a place to sit and read, nothing special about the facilities, a selection of very boring magazines and a collection of books it seems blandly standard – not the dogged curatorial sense you’d find in a boutique..
But it’s always been what Amazon does best: predictable, good value, and reliable for the masses.
After so many traditional bookstores were driven out of business by none other than Amazon, there is at least one place to run and buy a book again, he concludes. Which is pretty low praise.
Lots of data, no joy
Quartz Thu-Huong Ha is even more damning. Amazon’s new store doesn’t offer the sensuous pleasures of “flipping through the pages in a whisper; the sound of two covers sliding against each other when a book is put back on the shelf; the silent whisper of “Have you read this one?” that keeps bibliophiles loyal to independent bookstores, or the effectiveness of the online experience, she says.
Ha calls the cluttered, soulless and noisy in-store experience, and the selection oddly limited. In fact, its title probably best sums up its point: “Amazon’s First New York Bookstore Sucks Up the Joy of Buying Books.”
Are you interested in visiting Amazon’s real-world stores or do you plan to stick with ordering online?