Did you hear the one about night being day, up being down, black being white, and Amazon opening up a brick and mortar book store? It turns out one of those things is true—earlier this week, Amazon opened its first brick and mortar book store in the tony confines of Seattle’s University Village.
Amazon Books in Seattle's University Village
If you're not familiar with Seattle, but University Village rings a bell, that could be because it boasts an Apple Store, which then led to Microsoft opening up one of its retail stores across the street. I'll get into Apple-envy later in the piece, but the first question is why Amazon is going back to the future by dipping its toes into the antiquated world of brick and mortar stores.
Online Discovery Is Awful
The first thought that crossed my mind is that Amazon is tacitly admitting online discovery is unsolvable. I have long been of the belief that browsing books in a book store (or library) is infinitely preferable to shopping online. Same is true for music for me, though less so.
At the same time, I want ebooks instead of physical books. For years, I've been thinking about how awesome it would be if I could go into a Barnes & Noble, browse the shelves, and buy an ebook version of my selections. I won't say out loud that I wanted an ebook version with my physical book so I could own the former and read the latter, because that might reveal my OCD to the world.
Oops. Was that my out loud voice just now?
Getting both versions for the same price was never in the cards, however, because publishers want money for both copies. Absent my penchant for collecting books, the next best thing would be to browse book shelves, look at the covers (I'm weak! I admit it), read the book jackets, and then buy the ebook. That would have kept me a Barnes & Noble customer rather than an Apple iBooks customer.
That was doomed when Barnes & Noble separated its Nook ebook business. That was when I knew that if I was ever going to get that experience it would have to come from an independent book store, but that scenario didn't seem likely, either.
Yet here's Amazon doing just that. Amazon Books features thousands of books, many with their covers facing customers. Those books feature a placard with its Amazon rating (there will be an emphasis on 4 and 5 star books), a quote from an Amazon review (which is clever), and a bar code so you can order the book online, get the Kindle version, or add it to your Wish List.
Rating, Quote, and Helpful Barcode for Ordering on Amazon.com
Boom! As a book lover, that's where it is! Amazon, a company I have criticized for years for encouraging "showrooming," or the idea of using other companies' brick and mortar stores to browse and look at items and then order them from Amazon, is showrooming itself, and that's something completely different. In fact, it's great.
Amazon is marrying its best-in-class inventory management and customer-understanding to a physical showroom where we can browse in a way that offers a better book browsing experience. I like it, even if I prefer Apple's iBooks app to Amazon's Kindle app on my iPad.
Next: Apple Envy and Apes