On a recent overcast Seattle morning, I decided to gather up my Christmas gift cards and make my way over to University Village, the shopping center that is home to Amazon Books. This is, as far as I know, the only physical Amazon.com store. Imagine the love child of the Apple Store and a Barnes & Noble bookstore. THAT is Amazon Books. I browsed the small store for almost an hour, asked a bunch of questions (thank you, friendly staff!), and now I’m here to share my experience with you.
- This is a beautiful store! (It’s probably the abundance of books…)
- Integration: The store is wonderfully integrated with the rest of Amazon. At checkout, I was able to use the gift card balance that was already associated with my account to make my purchases, no physical card required.
- Pricing: The prices are amazing! Everything is priced exactly as it would be online, which makes for wonderfully inexpensive books. When I was there, a hardcover copy of Queen of Shadows by Sarah J. Maas was $11.58. It’s hard to beat that.
- Browsing: As far as finding books goes, browsing is where this store most excels. They have tons of themed shelves, like, “100 Books to Read Before You Die,” “Goodreads Choice Award Winners,” “All Rated Above 4.8 Stars,” and many more. This makes it easy to find an intriguing shelf and grow your TBR pile.
- Cover Orientation: The vast majority of books on display are shelved cover out, which makes for beautiful shelves and quick cover recognition.
- Review Cards: Each displayed book has a little review card associated with it, like the ones you see in a wine shop. They contain little excerpts from reviews or blurbs about each book, as well as an online star rating.
- Gadgets: If you are curious about any of the Amazon media gadgets, this is a great place to check them out. Just like at an Apple Store, there are several tables dedicated to this and several employees wandering the store. (I got to see the Echo in action with, “Alexa, dim the lamp.”)
- Assistance: All three of the employees I bugged were very helpful and friendly. Best of all, they were able to look up which books they had in stock and exactly where they were located.
- Cover Orientation: The flip side of the face-out cover orientation is that there is far less space available, so the browsing selection is limited. This also gives rise to the next con, narrow aisles.
- Narrow Aisles: I’m assuming this was done in an attempt to maximize displayable stock, but the aisles are very narrow. Fortunately, they are also short, so there is still some maneuver room. It was difficult to browse slowly when others were sharing the same aisle. I kept thinking of how crazy it must have been just before Christmas, and vowed never to go on a typical shopping day.
- Targeted Book Searching: While the aisle themes are good for browsing, they have the opposite effect on searching for specific books. Because of the small aisles, limited space, and abundance of themed shelves, authors and series are spread out throughout the store. If you’re looking for a specific book, especially if it was released more than a year ago, save some time and ask an employee to help you out.
The Bottom Line: If you’re lucky enough to live in the area, I would definitely recommend checking it out, regardless of your reading habits. I also recommend going in the morning, as it can get pretty crowded and the aisles are narrow enough to cause browsing traffic jams. I went in with a mental list of a bunch of books I’d be happy to take home, but I quickly realized it would be a better idea to buy most of them online and pick up a couple of newly discovered books instead. (I wasn’t kidding when I said it was great for browsing – it took me all of two seconds to decide which books I wanted to try out.)
In the end, I went home with three new books: Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda (because it’s on my 2015 top 5 list), The Paper Magician by Charlie N. Holmberg (TBR), and Mistborn: The Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson (TBR).