Amazon unveiled its latest brick and mortar bookstore on Thursday, its 10th opening in less than two years, and it has learned a couple lessons along the way.
GeekWire got a tour of the company’s newest bookstore Thursday, this one in the Bellevue Square Mall in Bellevue, Wash. The company opened its first bookstore in November 2015 at Seattle’s University Village shopping center.
The basic strategy behind the stores remains the same: a series of curated books mixed with a showroom for Amazon devices, a children’s area and infusion of Amazon Prime and its online retail platform into the brick-and-mortar realm. But the company has tinkered with the little things — such as the size of certain areas of the store and how it displays books — to make its first major physical retail push more customer-friendly.
One small, but important change is the aisles. Mariana Garavaglia, director of stores for Amazon, said the aisles are wider than the University Village store thanks to customer feedback. Gaps between shelves are 44 to 48 inches, versus 39 inches at the original location, the company said. That means fewer instances of the “butt brush” of customers running into each other in skinny aisles. Shelves are also set in further to make it easier to pick out books and make the aisles feel more spacious.
“We got a lot of feedback from customers saying they were having a hard time, both because the aisles weren’t as wide, but also because it was just harder to see down to the bottom shelf,” Garavaglia said.
The Bellevue store is smaller than the University Village one — 4,600 square feet versus 5,500 square feet — but the more spacious aisles, and a bigger area dedicated to demos of Amazon devices like the Echo and Echo Show, make the space feel bigger than it is.
Garavaglia calls the stores a “mecca of discovery” that take advantage of 20-plus years of selling books online. The store uses data from customer purchases, as well nearly endless reviews, to decide which books to put in stores. What’s changed is the variety of ways Amazon has instituted to display books.
For example, in Bellevue, a city that is a technology hub all its own, the store has an end-cap related to coding books. Customers at other stores have told Amazon they want more subsets of larger categories, hence the presence of a “historical fiction” section at the new store.
“We keep trying different features that allow us to bring that data to facilitate discovery for our customers,” Garavaglia said.
A popular feature in each of the stores, added after the first store in Seattle opened, is a recommendation section. In that area Amazon displays hit books with multiple similar titles that maybe aren’t as well known. Another section that has been added to the stores is focused on easy reads, or books that users of the Kindle e-reader have finished in three days.
After making its name selling books online, undercutting popular bookstore chains in the process, Amazon’s bookstore push continues unabated. In the 22 months since the opening of its first store in Seattle it has opened nine more, including one in San Jose this week. Three others — in New York City, Los Angeles and Walnut Creek, Calif. — are set to open this year.
Amazon has been experimenting with a wide variety of physical retail operations, including the AmazonFresh Pickup service and the Amazon Go convenience store. The company will take its retail footprint to a new level with the $13.7 billion acquisition of Whole Foods and its 468 stores, which is set to close on Monday.
Editor’s note: This post has been updated to correct aisle widths in Amazon Books stores.