Many have lauded the recent opening of Amazon.com’s eight brick-and-mortar stores in the U.S. as a death blow to independent bookstores. Since its launch in 1995 as an online retailer of books, Amazon has been blamed for the closing of bookstores nationwide because thanks to its wide-selection and low prices.
In an act of irony, the online retail giant has decided that its next step in its massive growth is to open brick-and-mortar bookstores where consumers can buy products in person. Amazon opened its first physical bookstore in 2015 in Seattle and has since opened seven more, including one in Chicago’s Southport Corridor this past March.
As an avid book reader, and a lover of independent bookstores, I had my trepidations about visiting the new Amazon Books in Chicago. To see what kind of competition Amazon Books poses for bookstores in the Second City, I decided to head up to the Lakeview neighborhood and witness this new phenomenon for myself.
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As the first Amazon Books in the Midwest, the Amazon Bookstore is a blend of a bookstore, electronics store, and a coffee shop. The bookstore was sleek and modern, but it felt impersonal-like an airport gift shop. In some ways, the store felt like the Amazon website had come to life.
Jennifer Cast, a vice president at Amazon Books, said that Amazon wanted to embrace its roots as a bookseller with these new stores. “We also realized we had an opportunity to create a new kind of store and create a different experience in a physical world. Our special sauce is knowing the reading habits and passions of a city through our Amazon.com data,” Cast said.
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The books are organized by the common literature genres, but the store also has special categories meant to appeal to Amazon customers. One of my favorite shelves was “Page Turners: Books Kindle Readers Finish in 3 Days or Less.”
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The most important feature about Amazon Books wasn’t the books, but the company’s Prime membership.
The store clearly made the shopping experience worthwhile for anyone that currently subscribes to a Prime membership for $99-a-year. Throughout the store, price check machines stood ready. When I tried one book, it showed me the difference in price based on whether I had a Prime account or not.
A Prime member could also obtain exclusive Amazon Prime Day deals at store locations. This year, Amazon had its most successful Prime Day yet. At its eight bookstores, it offered special deals on Microsoft MSFT Xbox Ones, Joule Sous Vide Precision Cookers, Osmo Genius Kits, and Philips Smart LED bulbs.
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Many people go to Apple stores and Best Buy in order to test out new technology before making expensive purchases. With this new testing site, Amazon is clearly trying to encourage consumers to commit to its voice-activated, Alexa-enabled devices that can play music, control home devices, make phone calls, and more.
A few workers constantly roamed the store and offered to help me try out the devices as I looked at them. The store also offers “Flash Course,” 5-7 minute tutorials on how to use the technology, every Friday through Sunday.
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And if anyone should be worried about new Amazon bookstore, it won’t be indie booksellers.
Readers who are willing and able to pay for the price and experience of independent bookstores will continue to do so. Chicago favorites, like Women and Children First in Andersonville and Myopic Books in Wicker Park, won’t be going anywhere anytime soon. At least, not because of Amazon’s physical bookstores.
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PG predicts that if the author visits a B&M bookstore in a year, she’ll have about the same experience as she would today, but a visit to an Amazon bookstore next year will result in some new and innovative experiences.
PG is certain he’s not alone in his enjoyment of visiting and revisiting museums, but he tends to seek out new experiences more frequently.
Speaking of museums, PG took the following photo when he visited a museum with his posterity a few days ago. He processed it so it looked a bit more ominous than the original and showed it to selected older progeny, who thought it was wonderful.