This past weekend, I visited the Amazon Books store on 34th Street in NYC. According to Wikipedia, it’s one of the 13 Amazon Books stores in existence!
First, let me show you some of the pictures I took of the store, and then I’ll tell you why I dislike the entire concept of the store (and why I’ll never go there to buy books). 🙂 Btw, hope the scroll-down gallery is fine! The slideshow view doesn’t seem to display long captions.
Now…onto why I don’t like the store and could never see myself choosing it over any (reasonably) normal bookstore – barring fundamental changes.
Let’s think about buying books and visiting bookstores. For me, those two are actually very different things. If I’m buying a physical book (not an e-book), there are only a few different scenarios. Either a) it’s a textbook I need for school, in which case I would go to my university bookstore which is conveniently located and gives us a 30% discount on textbooks, b) it’s a book that I want a physical copy of (like if I want to gift a book, or if I want a book for reference or to add to my physical collection that I can lend to people), in which case I would just order it online, or c) I’ve received a gift card to a local bookstore (very rare). For the last point, I should also mention that it looks like there is no Amazon Books-specific gift card, you could just use your Amazon account, which could be loaded with an Amazon.com gift card, to pay, or use a physical Amazon.com gift card. (I could be mistaken about this.)
I don’t think there’s ever been a case where I’ve urgently needed to buy a physical book other than for school, but if I did, their feature that allows you to search product availability in your local store would certainly be helpful (and I’ll admit, is more convenient than calling in to ask the same thing from a smaller bookstore). Otherwise, I would just buy the e-book, go without it for a few days, or read the summary online. 😅
As a physical extension of Amazon.com, Amazon Books integrates the benefits of offline and online shopping to help you find books and devices you’ll love. We select books based on Amazon.com customer ratings, pre-orders, sales, popularity on Goodreads, and our curators’ assessments. We place books face-out on the shelves, so each can communicate its own essence. Under each book is a review card with the Amazon.com customer rating and a review. Most have been rated 4 stars or above and many are award winners.
They say all of that as if they’re good things. What I appreciate about other bookstores is the curation, the ambience, the spontaneity! I want to have the experience of discovering a new read, or to just be able to sit down and take in the bookstore environment (similar to what I look for in a coffee shop). When I lived in the Mission in San Francisco, I loved (and cherished!) passing by Adobe Books and Alley Cat and checking out the discounted selection of used books in front of the store.
Even though you couldn’t replicate that kind of experience with a store selling new books, there overall is a sense of wonder and calmness that I look for in a bookstore that just cannot be replaced by Amazon Books’s curation by the online masses and attempts at translating their targeted marketing strategies into the physical world. Furthermore, the aspects that are supposed to be selling points of the store make me feel uncomfortable. The store is “personalized,” yet very depersonalized at the same time, and seems to be quite explicitly focused on getting me to buy buy buy, which is annoying enough to resist online, and almost antithetical to what I look for in other bookstores.
PSA: stores/corporations/etc. do not act in your best interests – they act in theirs! Sometimes the two are aligned – in which case, great! But that is very much not true for me and this Amazon Books store.
Overall, the only reasons I see for me returning to this store would be to either get some Stumptown (most likely), or maybe to try out one of the Amazon electronics (very unlikely). I think it’s worth checking the store out once if you’re interested in this kind of thing, but mainly, writing this blog post really made me realize that I really should support my local bookstores, lest Amazon Books stores become the new norm.
I visited the Reformation store in SF (on Valencia) before my trip to Europe to buy some 80/90 degree-weather appropriate clothing. It was Reformation’s 4th brick-and-mortar store, out of the 6 stores now in existence.
I was really confused when I walked into the store; I had walked past it multiple times but this was my first time actually entering. There were several other customers in the store, and their behavior was abnormal in a way that I couldn’t pinpoint. I am terrible at asking for help from customer service reps that aren’t in-your-face friendly, so I just started browsing the racks and pulled a dress off to try on.
A sales associate quickly came over and semi-explained the system to me: she’d create a virtual dressing room, and I should notify her to add anything to the room. She asked for my name and added that dress to the room after verifying what size I wanted, and then put the dress back on the rack and walked away. I was a bit confused at this point, and thought, “I have to get her every time I see something I like?!” so I continued browsing without adding anything else to my virtual dressing room.
At this point I was feeling pretty deflated, but decided to see what the touch screen monitors (I think there are two in the sales room) were about, since the people occupying them had left. As I played around with one, I became excited because it (for the most part) integrated the conveniences of online shopping, like filtering by in-store size availability, seeing the items on sale, and viewing all the colors of a particular item, with the convenience of being able to try things on in stores (and not having to do the returns switcheroo). From there, I added several things to my virtual fitting room, clicked a button saying I was ready to try them on, and walked towards the dressing rooms.
It was pretty magical when I went to get a fitting room, until I thought about it and figured out the source of the magic. Here’s what went down: a sales associate asked for my name and then went away somewhere, and then told me that my room was ready shortly after. I was confused because I didn’t see her go into the dressing room at all! But when I went in, everything I had requested was in a little closet inside. Magic!
I felt like a kid in a candy store – they even had several different lighting options and a plug you could use to play music from your phone. I started trying things on, still mesmerized by how it all happened, when someone opened and (rapidly) closed theback of the closet while I was changing. Notice the seam at the back of the closet. The source of the magic – a back room and a back door – had been revealed, and real life was more disappointing than whatever my imagination had conjured.
There’s a touch screen in the dressing room, similar to the one in the sales room but smaller, where you can also add new items and get new sizes, which is handy!
The checkout procedure is pretty typical of stores trying to imitate the Apple experience, where an associate just rings you up on their phone and can email you the receipt. I also chuckled internally when I noticed that they offer Boxed Water to customers.
Overall, I liked the experience after I started using the touch screen, and I see where Reformation is trying to go with the store. I do have several ideas about how the UX could be improved, but I was mainly only interested in talking about my experience in this post.