The first and overwhelming impression when visiting Amazon’s first New York location is that of familiarity. 

The look and feel, wooden shelves with white on black signage just above is reminiscent of the British retailer Waterstones, which operates in the same sector. Further, second-tier typography, this time white on royal blue, has shades of WHSmith, another old-hand.

Upon arrival customers are met by greeters (the first faces of Amazon, aside from CEO Jeff Bezos) who are both eager to help and distinctly Apple-esque, albeit dressed in checked shirts, jeans, and Converse – rather than seasonal t-shirts – giving more than a hint of the company’s Seattle roots.

Whilst meandering through, it becomes apparent that all the usual categories exist: Fiction, Kids, Cooking; indeed, everything you might expect from a book store. Slightly depressingly, ‘Self-Improvement’ was the busiest of all...

There is alchemy here though. Firstly, all the stocked editions have an amazon.com rating of four stars and above. Moreover, they have clearly been chosen based on what is popular in New York, utilising troves of data that the company has on the city's inhabitants. Perusing the travel section’s destinations brings this to life: London, Paris, Europe, Costa Rica, and the new darling of affluent Manhattanites, Cuba!

It is certainly Prime time, with calls to action everywhere highlighting the advantages of signing-up to the premium shipping and content service. Pricing is one such example: Prime members and Amazon device owners pay the same in-store as they would have had they bought the books from the website, whereas everyone else is charged the (typically more expensive) list price.

Strangely, ancillary items – like water bottles and key-finding devices – have no prices shown; no stickers nor shelf placards. As such, the customer must scan them using either the Amazon app or in-store machines, or take them to a cashier. Either way, the process buys time and, importantly, takes them away from the shelf, building a connection and making it harder to simply put the product back.

One obvious concept, well-executed, is relaying customer feedback. One wall is adorned with ‘Books with more than 10,000 reviews’; then there are ‘Most popular’ titles such as Fahrenheit 451; or ‘91% of people rated this 5 stars’; alongside individual customer reviews. A chalk board behind the till-point allows the in-house team to highlight weekly bestsellers.

As with iPads in the Apple Store, the Kindle is deployed as a reference tool for visitors to use to search for recommendations. Intriguingly, digital best-practice has been brought to life with a wall of ‘If you liked then you’ll love’, where popular titles are paired alongside each other. Again, it is likely that this has been driven by oodles of user behaviour but it was compelling – gorgeous covers combined with intrigue.

Interestingly, there is no order and ship directly to home option. (Maybe that was a pastiche too far, with Bonobos still the player in that space.) As with most book shops magazines are also on show – think GQ, Cosmopolitan, Outdoor Magazine – along with Osprey backpacks and hiking equipment; coffee presses, and nick knacks tempt the customer throughout journey to the checkout.

Moreover, the full gambit of Amazon products is on display, from the simple gift card, through to Kindles, Fire TV, and the Echo. A rolodex of cue cards is placed next to each device giving people ideas of what to ask Alexa, a considered touch that urges the customer to form a bond with ‘roboshop’.

The Columbus Circle store is only 4,000-odd square feet, so not huge. The space on the right and left upon entry is soon swallowed by the central payment area and a funneled sensation is created at the back. Located in one of the city’s higher-end shopping malls it does not look out of place. Make no mistake, this made for a pleasant trip.

No surprises and multiple titles that caught the eye (so predictable!). Yet, simultaneously it was so devoid of creativity; the devil may be in the detail, it certainly is not in the décor (the small wooden tables and leather-style chairs look like they might be related to Starbucks’ furniture.)

What is more, following the visit one thing was hard to reconcile: why go here, rather than buying it on amazon.com?

Charles Wade

Published 11 July, 2017 by Charles Wade

Charlie is a business development manager for ASOS in New York and a contributor to Econsultancy. You can follow him on Twitter, connect via LinkedIn, or read his personal blog.

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Pete Austin

Pete Austin, CINO at Fresh Relevance

Re: "A rolodex of cue cards is placed next to each device giving people ideas of what to ask Alexa, a considered touch that urges the customer to form a bond with ‘roboshop’."

Thanks for this detail, which I've not seen in other reports. Level 9 used to include a list of suggested sentences with our text adventure games, 30 years ago. Not much has changed since and it's still a good way of helping people work around the limited vocabulary of chatbots (both oral and written).

15 days ago

Charles Wade

Charles Wade, BDM at ASOS

Hi Pete, thanks for your comment. It was a good idea then and I have to say, it still is! The worst thing would be sitting staring 'at' Alexa - the individual would likely get bored and walk away questioning its value. This approach ensures that anyone can strike-up a conversation.

15 days ago

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Paige Sullivan, Auditor at Free Lance

The amazon cards are mentioning the things more appropriately and it can enhanced that thing more perfectly with some additional features in that thing and customers are sharing their experience with the Amazon’s book store and they are also letting this happen so that it can be more easy for them to develop the things more easily and https://www.ingic.sg/digital-marketing/ are also letting the reviews of that thing and which can be easily adjustable to the tasks of it.

10 days ago

Charles Wade

Charles Wade, BDM at ASOS

Hi Paige, absolutely! Thanks for your comment.

10 days ago

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Sara G, Intern at VN

You know that line from The Office when Michail Scott says: "Oh how the turntables"?
Recently, retailers (fashion and the like) have been keeping their brick and mortar stores as essentially giant billboards for their online store - a migration from physical to virtual. And now we have officially crossed over are in a time in which an entirely online retailer is establishing physical locations.
I'm not saying that business has changed its mind about e-commerce or anything.
Rather, it's proof that no retailer, even Amazon, can do without an omnichannel approach to commerce and marketing.
http://www.visualnext.com/business/what-is-omni-channel-and-what-are-the-benefits/

10 days ago

Charles Wade

Charles Wade, BDM at ASOS

Hi Sara, thanks for this. You know the line in Back To The Future when Doc Brown says: "Roads? Where we're going, we don't need roads."? I think that adequately describes Amazon. Whilst everyone else is obsessed with binary formats and terms like 'channels' and 'platforms', they just go where their customer is.

10 days ago

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