bookstore review: amazon books, seattle

Sunday, December 27, 2015 |
Seattle, Washington: my birthplace and the location of Amazon's headquarters.  I’m back in the area celebrating with family over the Christmas holiday. I visited a bookstore (is anyone surprised? no? good.). The bookstore that everyone is buzzing about – Amazon’s first physical book retail location. It was actually my mom’s idea to check it out, and I wanted to see it as a sort of curiosity. Instead of visiting the zoo on the day after Christmas, we went to Amazon Books.

I have some thoughts (the entire bookselling community probably has some thoughts!), I’m a consumer and a book blogger, so I'm doing a consumer review. Could be fun, right? I’ve never done a bookstore review before, so bear with me.

The first thing is that Amazon Books is located in a really tony outdoor shopping district called University Village, right by the University of Washington campus. When I was a teenager, going shopping in University Village made me feel grown-up (aka fancy).  I mean, there’s a Tiffany’s across the street from the Amazon Books location.  So make of that what you will (they’re right where the money is).

I just realized that if I keep listing things one by one in numerical order I will never be done with this review.  So here’s a big list of nice things about the bookstore: all of the books face out (so cover art is even more important than usual!), and they are arranged in general by interest area, but there are also a lot of freestanding shelves dedicated to award-winners, or Amazon’s top books of the year, or books for kids aged 9-12 who like sports, and so on.  In short? The browsing experience is a little different than most bookshops I’ve been in. 

The staff is super attentive – I was asked if I needed help 3 different times, and this while the place was totally packed!  Also, the prices are the same as on the website (cheap!), and are not listed on labels (browsers are encouraged to do price checks on their phones). I also appreciated the Amazon star ratings and short reviews listed under every title in the store (in a “staff picks” fashion).  I went around the YA section scanning the shelves for reviews by bloggers I recognize (I saw a couple!).  The staff was also restocking while we were there, leading me to believe that the large number of browsers translated to sales.

Now onto the “cons” list: the bookstore had VERY small aisles. If someone was in one, you couldn’t get past. When I stood with my back pressed against the shelf behind me, I could barely see any of the books on the bottom shelf in front of me. In a crowded bookshop, that’s a major issue (and it was quite crowded). I also learned that Amazon Books only accepts cards for payment, no cash allowed. That seemed unnecessarily elitist, as the unbanked might appreciate lower prices on books more than anyone.

There was also very limited seating throughout the store (I assume to encourage browsing, but not too much browsing).  That said, the window seats around the perimeter of the store were cool, according to my sister-in-law, who tried them out. My aunt noted that the store didn’t stock any Moleskine products (limited/no gift items) – the focus was on books and magazines only. I think the biggest difference between a traditional bookstore and Amazon Books (for me) were how few books there actually were in store. For the space, they fit in as many shelves as they could, and yet the majority of the selection was made up of newly-published books.  The selection of backlist items was random and haphazard.  There were also some notable holes in the selection – I kept looking all over for the Ron Chernow Hamilton biography, and couldn’t spot it.  That would be front and center in any other bookstore right now, due to the popularity of the Broadway musical.

You may be wondering if I purchased anything at Amazon Books. I didn’t. But! My mother bought me an early birthday present. I picked out two books: adult fantasy Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho, and middle grade classic The Wolves of Willoughby Chase by Joan Aiken. 

Final verdict: Amazon Books is worth a visit. It was interesting from a consumer viewpoint to see what books Amazon prioritized in a store setting, and I found a couple of interesting titles I wanted to purchase while browsing. That said, this is not the store to go visit if you need a specific backlist book. The store space itself is also less-than-ideal. I think the concept needs a little bit of work. All told, I’m glad I went!


Jenny @ Reading the End said...

Interesting! I'm surprised in particular that the aisles are so narrow. I wonder if that was a conscious decision for a reason I do not currently understand, or if it was just a function of the amount of space they had available.

Li said...

I've been curious about their bookstore - thanks for posting about her visit! I think it's an interesting experiment, I wonder if they'll look to expand.

Li said...

*Your* visit. Sorry, it's been a long day ;-)

Jess said...

This looks so cool. I like that they have cover facing out, but I don't get the no price tag thing. I guess it's nice not to have to take it off after you buy it. . .but still.

Kristen M. said...

Yeah, I am still not convinced that there is any reason for me to visit this store. I can get a better selection off of their website and I can browse at my indies, even on the bottom shelves! ;) Thanks for going so that I don't have to.

Melanie said...

This is fascinating! I'd definitely like to check it out sometime, just for the experience. Information in front of every book looks a bit excessive to me and kind of reminds me of info plates at museums.

I'm curious, how did you find having to look online to find the price?

Patricia Grasher said...

I have been very curious about Amazons first brick and mortar bookstore. So thanks for sharing about it. I hope someday to visit it (live in Vancouver, WA) so a bit of a trip but do make it up north sometimes.

Loved your comments about the books all facing outwards. I wonder if that is still in the experimental stage. Seems like they should have digital screens displaying books and lots more cool, trendy ways to connect with books.

Interesting about the narrow aisles I would definitely not like that! Will be very interesting to see if Amazon keeps it up and expands with more.

Anonymous said...

This sounds like an interesting experience. As I have no plans to head to the west coast any time soon, I appreciated all the pics. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

Liviania said...

Cool! I bet you'll like The Sorcerer and the Crown.

I'd like to see the bookshop, but I'm not big on crowded places.

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