May 26, 2017
Amazon's newest bricks and mortar store opens in New York
Amazon, in its third decade of business, dominates the world of online shopping. But an actual bricks and mortar Amazon store? That's still as rare as an A-list celebrity sighting.
The company opened its seventh US bookshop in New York on Thursday, drawing a steady stream of selfie-snapping gawkers, tourists and loyal shoppers who revelled in the novelty experience of shopping in person.
"It makes it feel more accessible," said Amanda Martinez, 25, of New York, who arrived before the store opened and walked out later with a JJ Abrams novel. "It's already accessible because it's online but it's nice to go inside and walk around."
Amazon opened its first bookshop in Seattle in 2015. By the end of the year, it plans to have 13 in the US. It's also expanded its physical footprint on university campuses and is experimenting with grocery and convenience shops.
Bricks and mortar retail remains a marginal part of Amazon's business - and that's not likely to change anytime soon, said analyst Tuna Amobi, who follows the company for CFRA Research.
But Mr Amobi says even on a small scale, a real store has benefits, including boosting brand awareness and exposing people to Amazon's Prime subscription service. Prime members get the online prices in the store, while non-members must pay the list price for books.
"There's an opportunity to get their platform closer to the consumer and interact, engage, at a very minimal investment," he said.
For Amazon's smaller rivals, which have stepped up face-to-face events such as author readings to survive, the company's physical expansion also adds to the pressure, he explained.
"It's been an ongoing process [of disruption] frankly over the last decade," he said. "This is just going to ... accelerate that."
Leigh Altshuler, spokeswoman for the Strand Book Store - a New York institution founded in 1927 - said the Strand knows it cannot rest on its laurels.
But she thinks the typical Amazon customer is looking for something different to those drawn to independent shops like hers: "We're not going anywhere. We're ... not just a bookstore, but a culture and a community."
Jennifer Cast, the vice-president of Amazon Books, said the company's "customer-obsessed" focus is driving the real-world expansion.
People have been asking for a place to check out books and test-drive Amazon's tech products, such as the Kindle e-reader, she says.
Amazon also has a mountain of data on what people are reading to put to use in stocking the store.
At the New York shop, which is tucked away on the third floor of one of Manhattan's most upmarket shopping malls, the company organises books into new kinds of categories, such as page turners - books that Kindle-readers finish in three days or less.
She says the goal of the shop, where customers can pay by credit card or on the Amazon App, is to be "a discovery mecca for customers".
"People have asked us, 'Is this just a big showroom?'" Ms Cast said. "I just say: 'Look how many books are on the shelves. Does this look like a showroom?' No - this is a store."
Ms Cast wouldn't say whether the shops are profitable or how many more stores Amazon might be contemplating.
Xiupeng Zhang, 28, of New York is an Amazon Prime member who stopped by to buy a Sheryl Sandberg book.
For him, the ability to pick up his purchases straight away without having to wait for them to be delivered, combined with low, online-world prices has long-term appeal: "It's like the future of retail."