Pat Ryan

@PatRyanChicago

Amazon’s New Bricks-and-Mortar Bookstore Nails What the Web Couldn’t

Amazon’s First Foray into Physical Retail — While Utilitarian — Takes Discovery to New Levels

As a long time city dweller living in a neighborhood full of history, I had mixed feelings about the arrival of Amazon’s first bricks-and-mortar bookstore in a city neighborhood (the first four are located in malls). Like most of my neighbors around Chicago’s Southport Corridor, I prefer the charm of owner operated boutiques. Yet as a tech entrepreneur who holds Amazon founder Jeff Bezos in the highest esteem, I was excited to see how Amazon would reimagine the traditional bookstore given their customer obsession and their treasure trove of user data. Here’s what I discovered:

Chicago’s Southport Corridor is home to the first bricks-and-mortar Amazon bookstore in a city neighborhood

The Design is as Utilitarian as Amazon.com: While the Amazon Books on Southport features a locally owned coffee shop in the store — including tables on the sidewalk — it will never be the charming book store with coffee shop destination where writers, couples and friends relish spending hours marinating in its ambiance. Cities like Chicago are awash in classic architecture. Chicagoans cherish authenticity in all aspects of their bars, restaurants and coffee shops. Cookie-cutter retail has a hard time competing with the authentic and unique so I don’t see the coffee shop at Amazon Books ever being a magnet for the locals.

With a coffee store in the front window, Amazon Books first appears to be competing in the coffee shop-bookstore genre.

The Coffee Shop in the Window is a Red Herring: While the coffee shop in the front of the bookstore gives the sense that Amazon is competing in the traditional book store with coffee shop category, this conclusion misses the point. The Amazon bricks-and-mortar bookstore is all about discovery. We all understand that Amazon.com works hard to help you discover new books — and if you are looking for books like one that you’ve read, Amazon.com makes discovery easy through its “Customers who bought this item also bought…” feature. Yet as my annual Father’s Day shopping reminds me, beyond “like” recommendations, discovery on Amazon.com isn’t quick, easy or very productive. And this is where the Amazon physical bookstore excels, reinventing discovery by making it quick, easy and enjoyable to find great books.

How the Amazon Bookstore Reinvents Discovery:

Every Book is Rated a 4.5 or Higher: Because the store only stocks highly rated books you quickly find yourself on an unexpected Easter egg hunt. The store is generally organized like other book stores with sections such as “biographies”. But when you get to a section you are greeted by every book facing out — no more reading book spines — the covers and titles all compete head to head. You feel a sense of confidence knowing that the wisdom of crowds has ensured that you are only seeing the highest rated books in each category. Knowing the overall quality level is high, removes hesitation from the book discovery process and energizes the experience. If you like what you read on the cover and the book jacket, you can purchase with confidence knowing that you weren’t fooled by good cover art or clever marketing.

Every book features its Amazon rating and an excerpt from a review rated as helpful by other customers

Every Book Display Highlights it’s Amazon Rating, Number of Reviewers and an Excerpt from a Popular Review: Amazon puts the most relevant information from the website with each book display. In person, the effect is more powerful because you can see all of the books, their cover art, their ratings and reviews in view, with no clicking around required to easily compare books. The simple fact that the books are all laid out side by side, making comparison effortless compared to the web.

The physical manifestation of the “if you like…then you’ll love…”

Even the “Customers who bought this also bought…” section is easier to navigate in person. While Amazon.com is well known for its “like recommendations”, even these are better in person.

Amazon Books Builds on this Solid Foundation by Leveraging Their Data in Game Changing Ways:

My favorite — Page Turners: Books Kindle Readers Finished in 3 Days or Less

Page Turners — Books Kindle Readers Finish in 3 Days or Less: The consensus favorite was this Kindle insight based section that virtually guaranteed page turning induced insomnia. If the title, cover art and review fit your interests, you feel sure that you will embark on a great literary journey. The prospect of a rack of proven page turners builds excitement in everyone who sees it in ways that I’ve never experienced anyplace else.

You can see how popular this section is — they had trouble keeping the shelves stocked

Most Wished For Books on Amazon.com: A close second was the online wishes of crowds. Knowing what people yearned for was very compelling — in fact so compelling that they had trouble keeping the books on these shelves stocked.

The ultra metric combining insights from disparate sources seems more compelling than standard best seller lists

The Ultra Metric — Combining Ratings, Pre-Orders, Sales and Popularity on Goodreads plus a Little Curation: With so much high quality data to work from it’s easy to trust Amazon with its new and improved version of the best seller racks. With so much more relevant signal data its easy to see why crowds feel more confident in buying these books.

Select Amazon.com goods are featured as well

Curated Items from Amazon.com are Featured: A portion of the store features relevant merchandise from Amazon.com with an emphasis on home tech and children.

The Bottom Line: I will still go to Amazon.com for the job of ordering a book that I already know that I want (and to the local Barnes and Noble if I need it today). But when I need to discover a book for gifts (Father’s Day is coming up soon enough) or for my own interest, nothing that I have seen compares to Amazon Books. We had an amazing experience and discovered more books in 20 minutes than we had in the past month or two.

It would be hard to get excited about going back to Barnes and Noble or even a local book store for Discovery after visiting Amazon Books. Not having the insights from consumers informing every stocking and buying decision introduces a great deal of risk to making purchases. While local book stores feature some hard earned curation, the taste of staff members who I do not know is hard to substitute for the wisdom of crowds. Judging from the crowds, which show no sign of dissipating, a lot of Chicagoans are having a similarly great experience.

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