An Austinite’s Take on the New Amazon Books Store

April 17, 2018  | By Amanda Reed

I’m a big book nerd. When I was younger, I told my parents I wanted to be a librarian when I grew up. Nowadays on any given trip to Target, I’ll take a stroll through the book section and get scan-happy with the Goodreads app, adding to my growing “Want to Read” list. So, it should come as no surprise that on a recent date night out, I told my husband we couldn’t leave The Domain before checking out Austin’s new Amazon Books store.

The Austin location, which opened on March 6, is the first in Texas and 14th in the U.S. Amazon describes the Books store as “a physical extension of Amazon.com… integrating the benefits of offline and online shopping to help you find books and devices you’ll love.” Mariana Garavaglia, head of stores and retail operations for Amazon Books, calls it “a store without walls.”

The store was buzzing on a Friday night, but there were plenty of Amazon team members on hand to acclimate us to the shopping experience. Amazon has a unique yet simple in-store pricing approach: Amazon Prime members get the same price they’d get on Amazon.com. Others pay the list price. And while there are price scanners throughout the store, employees encouraged us to check-in through the provided QR code and use our phones to look up prices. As I explored the store and discovered new titles, I enjoyed being able to easily add titles to Amazon wish lists for future purchases – hey, even book nerds need to stick to a budget.

There are 3,800 different titles in stock at any given time, and on average, books have a rating of 4.3 or more stars – the placards beneath the books show you the rating and sometimes even an excerpt from a customer review. However, what I liked most is the thoughtful curation and layout of the store. Amazon’s team looks at reviews and ratings, e-book reading behaviors, sales and pre-order information to determine what books to carry and where to place them. Signage will tell you which titles are “Most Wished For,” which are “Page Turners” finished in three days or less on Kindle devices, and which titles “You’ll Love” “If You Liked” another particular read.

Another interesting approach is how most books in the store are displayed facing outward, rather than seeing shelf after shelf of book spines. The consequence of this is that it limits the available shelf space for inventory but is designed to make it easy to “discover titles you weren’t even looking for in the first place.”

In writing this blog, I thought I’d also check out local Yelp reviews to see what others thought of the new shopping experience. There were several five-star, glowing reviews, but here were some unique opinions I saw:

  • One parent was glad that, unlike some book retailers, there weren’t toys kept in stock alongside books. Her child wasn’t distracted or confused about what they were there to buy.
  • Some compared the book selection to that of an airport bookstore, saying they preferred the robust shopping experience across town at Barnes & Noble.
  • Many observed that Amazon Books doesn’t have space to linger and read – no coffee shop, tables and chairs or reading nooks. Probably exactly what Amazon intended, but a notable difference if that’s something you want to do as you explore.
  • Some outspoken Austinites were unimpressed, pledging their loyalty to local favorite Book People.

Lastly, I was curious to know if Amazon has seen an increase in Prime membership registrations as brick-and-mortar locations have opened. If I weren’t a Prime member and learned I could shop in-store and get a better price, I may want to sign up right then to take advantage of the discount. But alas, I couldn’t find any research online about this.

What about you? Have you visited an Amazon Books store, and were you a fan?

Happy reading, book lovers!