20 minutes before the New York City location opened, there were a handful of potential customers outside
Amazon’s attempt to penetrate America’s literary capital is off to a slow start.
Twenty minutes before the grand opening in New York today, the number of potential customers lined up outside could be counted on one hand. When the doors finally swung open, there were maybe a dozen people (alongside many reporters) on hand.
“I read about it and wanted to have a look to reflect on how the bookshop that destroyed [physical] bookshops is now opening a store,” says Laura Kilby, a visitor from Manchester, England. She wasn’t very impressed, though Kilby pays for an Amazon Prime account and estimates that she spends anything from $65 to $130 each month on Amazon on everything from groceries to books. “It looks very clinical and stripped back,” she says. “I’d like somewhere to sit, like in Waterstones.”
The 4,000 square feet brick-and-mortar boutique at the Shops at Columbus Circle was announced to great hype. It was located in a shopping complex that had once housed a Borders flagship and situated in a neighborhood that had become a literary desert of sorts.
Elizabeth Broomfield, who lives in the neighborhood, says that she’s happy there’s finally a bookstore in her vicinity. Since Borders shut its Columbus Circle outlet and Barnes & Noble exited from nearby Lincoln Center, she’d had to trek 30 blocks north to visit a general bookstore. “It’s always fun to be there on the first day,” the Amazon Prime customer says, though she warily noted the stacks of electronics—ranging from Kindles and Echos to partner accessories—that were prominently displayed up front. “I like books a lot but don’t go to bookstores as often anymore,” she says.
Decor wise, the bookstore is a replica of Amazon’s relatively minimalist aesthetic: think handsome black shelves, walnut flooring and lighting brightened just so. While there are a handful of sofas and child-sized tables and chairs to occupy the little ones, Amazon clearly didn’t intend for visitors to spend hours there.
The internet giant’s Manhattan effort, staffed by 20 employees, will soon be joined by a store in Herald Square and Paramus, New Jersey. While it hosts the range of paraphernalia that every other bookstore carries these days—books, magazines, electronics and pricey Moleskine notebooks—there are notable differences.
For instance, the 3,000 books are displayed with their covers—instead of spines—facing forward. “People are captivated by covers so we wanted them to focus on it,” an Amazon rep said, adding that this was particular true for drawing the attention of children. Big data was also used to shape the selection—a table of books that have been rated with 4.8 stars or higher greets customers immediately once they enter the store. These include comedian Trevor Noah’s biography “Born A Crime” and J.K. Rowling’s evergreen “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.”
There are shelves dedicated to novels that New Yorkers particularly like, according to Amazon data. These included liberal fare like George Orwell’s “1984” and Margaret Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale.” However, some displays like the magazines– which included everything from Esquire to Magnolia Journal– were picked by humans.
The books each come with their average star-rating and brief review stuck to the shelf they’re displayed on. Prices aren’t displayed—you’ll have to scan the cover using your phone’s Amazon app or a dedicated terminal (Prime customers receive prime pricing which means in-store or online purchases will cost the same.) A sales clerk said that one of the first purchases she rung up was a selection of touch-and-feel children’s board books. Existing Amazon customers pay using their phone app linked to their accounts, while others will card credit cards. Cash isn’t accepted.
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