Some two decades after launching on the internet, Amazon has opened its first retail outlet. Its a bookstore at the University Village in Amazon’s home town, Seattle. The store will stock a much narrower range of books than the various .com, .co.uk and other domains do since even Amazon can’t change the laws of physics. Nevertheless, actual hard copy books will be available at the same price as the website. Having almost single handedly dismantled high street book retailing in the developed world, what are Amazon up to? There are a couple of plausible explanations.
First, the store could be a blueprint for a different, more hybrid model of retailing. Order on line and collect in store is not new. John Lewis, Argos and many other retailers have demonstrated that click and collect is a viable model decoupling the convenience of seeing the product from the actual delivery and collection process. Second, maybe Amazon have seen the impact of the Apple Store on brand awareness, etc. As Amazon move further into devices of all shapes and sizes from e-readers, to tablets, to phones they may want to offer consumers the opportunity to be wooed by shiny displays or an in store genius. Third it could be a mix of hubris or guilt. Amazon’s clever use of technology revolutionised book selling. Traditional booksellers found it hard to live with the low cost, high convenience, almost infinite choice that a website and a warehouse offered. Despite moving well beyond books, maybe Amazon has a sentimental streak around the role of the bookshop in society. Or maybe it is some form of vanity project that a phenomenally profitable business can easily afford. Maybe, just maybe, it is a beachhead from which other product lines will be launched.
Whatever lies behind the decision, it is a bold and unexpected moved which indicates that it will probably turn out to be strategically important. Will Amazon be on a high street near you in five years?