Wednesday, December 21, 2016

AmazonBooks...when online love is not enough

I know that Amazon is a divisive force in the book blogger world.   Many people see it as a superpower out to gobble up small, independent bookstores, or possibly out to undercut authors (although I think that claim is misplaced.  If one is worried about authors not getting their fare share, which is a real concern, they would do better to look at publishers and not booksellers).  I, however, love Amazon.  I appreciate that I can get anything from Amazon.  Seriously, I just ordered kitty litter from them.  Their prices are hard to beat and I am convinced that Amazon Prime is about the best thing ever.

Around Thanksgiving, Amazon opened a brick and mortar store in a mall in my area.  I've been trying to get down there to check it out since, but apparently the week of Christmas is just the absolutely best time to stroll at the mall.  No?  Okay, I had to pick up a couple presents at another store and my hard-to-fit son needed new shoes, otherwise there is absolutely no way I'd be at the mall this week!  Since we had to go to the mall, though, I decided to check out AmazonBooks.


So, there is the store (and my daughter standing in front of it...).  For the most part it, is just books.  I was recently at a Barnes and Noble--I go there once a year during the book fair they hold for my kids' school--and I'd say that it was about 50% books, 15% stuff you'd find in bookstores (magazines, calendars, etc) and 35% other things.  For AmazonBooks, I'd say it is 90% books, 8% other Amazon products, and 2% gift items.  There is also a small magazine section.

The first thing I noticed while browsing the store is that all the books face out on the shelves.  While this may cut down on the number of different books on the shelves, it makes looking for books much, much easier.   It also makes the shelves more aesthetically pleasing.  Instead of seeing a bunch spines, we see shelves of covers, which invites customers to pick up and thumb through the books.

There are also a number of curated displays, things such as "Best Selling Fiction for Portland" or "Amazon's 100 Books to Read in Your Lifetime."  I thought the former was an interesting collection, because I don't think you would be able to find that information on the Amazon website.

The second thing I noticed was a big one.  There were no prices on the books--at least not on the shelves (books always have the list price) .  Then I noticed this:

The trick to this store is Amazon Prime.  If you don't have Amazon Prime, you aren't going to pay any less for books, magazines, and such than you would at any other store.  However, if you do have an Amazon Prime membership, you are going to pay the same price as the website.  Since the prices on the site can change day to day, it isn't feasible for the store to list prices.  I was able to use my Amazon app to look books up, but that was slow.  Then, I noticed that they have a number of scanners throughout the store where you can check the website price.

I also believe that you can purchase Amazon memberships at the store.  If you don't have a membership, I highly recommend it.  You don't just get a better price on books in the store and free shipping on the majority of items from the website, but you also get streaming, unlimited photo storage, and music.  It is well worth the price.

The other big thing about this store--you can try out Amazon devices such as the Kindle, Fire, Alexa.  My family had such great fun playing with the various Alexa devices that my husband ended up buying a dot and a tap (supposedly for me, but I'm sure my kids will monopolize the devices to learn new knock-knock jokes).  While these devices had the same price in the store as they did online, they are currently on backorder at Amazon.com, while we were able to take ours in-store purchases home with us.

I do want to mention the customer service.  It might be that I've had some bad experiences recently at both Barnes and Noble and Powell's, but I was beyond impressed with the employees at this store.  Everyone we spoke to was incredibly friendly and patient (which is saying a lot this week!) and very, very knowledgeable.  We spent a great deal of time with one young woman who walked us through all the different Alexa products--and even showed my kids how to get it tell jokes (I'm not sure if that is a good thing.)

As far as a bookstore experience, I definitely prefer this AmazonBooks store to my local Barnes and Noble.  But it isn't perfect--I did find it a little cramped (the fact that we're less than a week out from Christmas doesn't help matters) and I wish that there was some easier way to check prices other than to take the item to a scanner.  Perhaps Amazon should add some functionality to their app to allow users to scan the shelf barcode and get the price, instead of having to take a picture of the item and then waiting for the app to recognize it.  I also think that they may need a few more cash registers going--they had three, all open, and while the line was not long when I was there, I could see how long lines would add unneeded congestion to the store.

So, here is the question...is this a place where I would buy my books?  The answer is no...and yes.

Honestly, if I want to buy a book for myself--and I always want to buy a book for myself--it is much easier for me to just order it off the Amazon website.  I'm paying the same amount I would in the store and, while I would have to wait a couple days for my order to arrive, the store is still not especially convenient for me.  While it is in my area, it isn't exactly down the street--instead, it's a good 20 minutes or so away.  Plus, I'm generally not a big fan of malls.

However, let's say I'm interested in a cookbook.  I've had far too many cases of ordering a cookbook that sounds interesting, only to receive it and realize that there are few, if any, recipes in it that I would actually make.  In this case, I would much prefer going to the AmazonBooks store, where I could thumb through the cookbooks and make sure I would actually use what I bought.

Another scenario where I would use the store over the website involves my kids.  My daughter is now an independent reader and, not surprisingly, she LOVES to read.  However, I don't always know what to get if I'm going to buy her a book.  I know that there are a few series that she likes, but I'm not really sure what books out of those series she's read.  I also would like her to expand her horizons a bit.  When I've taken her to other bookstores, it hasn't been easy for her to find something she likes.  However, at this store--with the books all facing out--she had a much better time finding things that interested her (not that I bought any!  She already has enough presents under the tree!). She also found it much more enjoyable and I almost had to pull her out of the store.  While I'm beyond browsing for books--because of the book blogging world, I already know what I want to read--my daughter (and soon, my son) is not...and this store is clearly built for browsing.

Three are currently 3 AmazonBooks stores--Seattle, San Diego, and the location I visited at Washington Square in the Portland, Oregon area.  These are not your everyday bookstores and I would highly recommend checking one out if you are in the area.

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