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On Amazon Bookstore Closing Day





It’s a sad story when hearing earlier this month that Amazon’s going to close all Amazon books, 4 stars, and pop-up physical stores. I planned earlier this week to give the last visit this weekend, but still, it strikes me that everything proceeds so fast that today (3/19) is the last day for Amazon Books UW Village store.

Multiple years ago when it opens, there were tons of amazing designs on mechanisms invented by Amazon about how it can be different from “classic bookstore” while being as attractive.

The close of Amazon Bookstore doesn’t mean it’s a failure for Amazon’s trial on physical stores. Instead, amazon bookstore has accumulated so much good experience to push the continuous success of Amazon Go, WholeFoods, and the upcoming Amazon Style stores.

In the last visit to the Amazon bookstore, here are my thoughts on what Amazon Books has done it correctly (and amazingly!) and needs to improve if there’s any more possibility of reopening, purely from customer pov.

These things are done amazingly:

A whole set of Store-UI developed by working backward from customers

These stores reinvented the way book stores should look like: all books cover face customers, “if you like, you will like” style of book recommendation racks, e-ink price tags auto-syncing with online prices, unify online and offline book prices, etc.

Amazon Bookstore invented a full set of Store-UI that's innovative and inspiring.

Connecting dots across Amazon Eco-system.

In the store, customers can not only get information about books but also other products in the Amazon eco-system, like Smart Home devices, Amazon Video new shows, Amazon return service, 3P innovative devices, etc. All these non-directly related products expand the definition of "bookstore" and explore to create new scenarios for a bookstore to create profits (which is the right direction, in one recent book I read, "Wonderful Bookstores of the World", most of the bookstores nowadays are depending on online retails or peripheral products like coffee to live).

The Bookstore by itself is the thing done correctly

As a person who loves books, Amazon Bookstore by itself is good enough for me. I love the feeling of walking in a physical store, skimming through the racks, expecting to meet new books, and touching the texture of physical books which are already luxury experiences nowadays when everything is crazily digitalized. The offline experience by itself is unreplaceable.

The things need future improvements (if there is future):

How should we define the success of bookstores nowadays?

The business model needs changes: a) stopping to evaluate only by “earnings”, but also factor in the value of “branding”; b) be realistic on the actual drive of making money.

How’s the success of Amazon Bookstore evaluated? The “amount of money customer paid during the journey in store” can be an obvious one. Yet some other factors should be as important as this metric, e.g. customer LTV changes after visiting stores.

Data-driven retail has a good start but didn’t form a closed-loop

It’s an amazing idea to use online learned data (correlations between books, “also purchase”, trending books at the time, etc.) to make data-driven decisions on books recommendations. But it failed to close the loop missing the offline to online steps. There is no way the customer sends rich feedback to close the loop.

For example, when I feel uncomfortable with recommendations online, I can dismiss the recommendation to let the system learn my preference on the fly. The approach can be applied offline (though much harder for sure) to take advantage of what Amazon’s already good at. But I didn’t see enough trials in the direction. There is a device at the door side that you can press buttons from "satisfied" to "not satisfied" for giving feedback to experience., but that's it. There are no personalized experiences or follow-up surveys. The experience will be "good" yet far from "great" without enough personalization.

Researches

I haven’t found any paper related to Amazon Stores yet, but it’s a great place for behavior research as well as drives to online product improvement.

For example, customers can search corresponding books when they wander in the store, it can be an opportunity on converting what they searched to info adding to offline stores, and vice versa to re-arrange info displaying orders online. Similarly, other behavior changes when customers are in-store and purchasing behaviors changes after leaving the store can be interesting to explore how to form a closed loop to use offline stores to drive online retail success, as well as how physical stores should iterate to drive offline retail success.

Think Big

To be honest, I'm a bit surprised on these stores are limiting themselves from testing new experiences with customers, like social events, book clubs, VR / AR, personalized store experience, e-ink screen utilization, JWOT (Just Walk Out Technology, like Amazon Go), etc.

In the end, I'm sad Amazon Bookstore didn't manage to get the future form of physical bookstores and these trials stopped after the store close. But I still believe that physical books, physical stores, and the unreplaceable experiences of visiting bookstores will not disappear even in long run, and new experiences are waiting for people to explore going forward.

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