Amazon opened it’s first brick and mortar bookstore in Seattle on Nov. 3, 2015. Located in University Village, an outdoor shopping center across the street from the University of Washington, the location has been described by reviewers as both “unimpressive” and “bizarre.” Amazon has built it’s brand on being the “go to” location for anything and everything consumers could ever want— an unending, virtual megastore, but the first physical location of an Amazon store seems to be anything but. Rob Salkowitz of Forbes referred to the small bookstore as “more Waldenbooks than Barnes & Noble.” The first reviews are reporting that the store, which claims it has hired professional, qualified booksellers to “curate” it’s shelves, is lacking in selection and offers a strange variety of what appears to be excess stock.
Even stranger still is the way customers are made to shop in the store. There are no prices listed for any of the books or merchandise; the customer must scan a bar code using the Amazon app on their smartphone (if they don’t have the Amazon app or a smartphone, a bookseller will scan it for you). All the shelf tags contain the star ratings and snippets of reviews that you would see when shopping online, but absolutely no pricing information. When asked why the process of browsing for books is made so difficult for the customer, Amazon explains that its prices may fluctuate and they want to ensure that they are offering the same price to every customer, the one that is listed on Amazon.com.
In his review of the bookstore Salkowitz asks a question that I’m sure most Amazon Books shoppers were left asking themselves: If you’re going to open a physical location of an already massive online bookstore, why open such a crappy one? His answer hits the nail on the head… Amazon Books doesn’t care about selling books. Instead of titling this post “The Amazon Books Experience” perhaps “The Amazon Books Experiment” would have been more appropriate.
By requiring shoppers to price scan using their Amazon app anytime they’re interested in a book, the customer is unwittingly sending Amazon their shopping habit information, preferences, and history, along with all their personal information. All this data is being tracked by Amazon’s massive cloud data service. So maybe Salkowitz is right, maybe this tiny brick and mortar bookstore born from it’s megaparent, Amazon.com, isn’t really a bookstore after all, but the physical location of Amazon’s experiment in blending physical and digital commerce. Very sneaky, Amazon, very sneaky. Let’s hope this isn’t the future of all of our retail shopping experiences— where our movements, histories, and data are tracked at every turn. Let’s hope that Amazon retires back to the web where it belongs soon, and that another monopoly on the way we shop hasn’t just been born.
Check out Salkowitz’s article here:
***Heather Hickox earned a Bachelor’s in English at Middle Tennessee State University and is currently pursuing a Master’s of Professional Studies in Publishing at the George Washington University. Her writing has been published in several editions of Collage: A Journal of Creative Expression and VSA TN’s 40 Days Around the World. Heather is a Writing Facilitator for The Carnegie Writers, Inc. in Nashville, TN.