Amazon Opens Its First Physical Bookstore

Twenty years after first registering in the national consciousness as the eRetailer that specialized in connecting consumers to books for relatively little money through the magic of the Internet, Amazon is opening a real, live bookstore. A few hours after this story is published, Amazon will open its first brick-and-mortar shop in Seattle’s University Village.

Amazon Books will be familiar to anyone who has ever perused the stacks of a mall bookstore — wood shelves laden with bestsellers and customer favorites.

Amazon, which for years has been the terror stalking the dreams of physical booksellers, has until now leveraged its ability to undercut its rivals on price by sidestepping the overhead costs associated with physical retail. Now, armed with a massive pile of consumer data on book preferences gathered nationwide for the last two decades, Amazon is turning to physical in the hopes of leveraging all that information into doing it better.

Particularly, Amazon might be able to avoid the typical trap that catches booksellers: the unsold title that languishes unsold, taking up valuable shelf space. With better insight into customer habits, Amazon could theoretically do a better job of picking titles that move and avoid sluggish inventory.

And, Amazon notes, it’s about more than just the cold data when it comes to selling books.

“It’s data with heart,” Jennifer Cast, vice president of Amazon Books, noted. “We’re taking the data we have, and we’re creating physical places with it.”

That first physical space will be around 5,500 square feet with 2,000 square feet of additional storage. It will also be laid out a bit differently than most typical bookstore shoppers are used to — avoiding the “spine-out” display model in favor of displaying books “face out,” which means much less space for books.

 Cast said Amazon wanted to showcase authors and their work instead of merely packing the store with as many books as possible.

“We realized that we felt sorry for the books that were spine out,” Cast said.

This first-of-its-kind venture for Amazon will, for the foreseeable future, be the only model as Amazon waits to see if it really can reinvent book retailing.

“We’re completely focused on this bookstore,” Cast said. “We hope this is not our only one. But we’ll see.”

As for price, that will remain the same in-store as it is online.

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