Well that’s a change of tack. Amazon, which revolutionised book sales and has been blamed for the demise of independent bookshops the world over is reportedly planning to open as many as 400 bookshops. Yes, real life bookshops with staff, shelves and tomes made of actual paper.
The ecommerce giant hasn’t officially confirmed the news, which was revealed on an analyst call by the chief exec of US shopping centre operator GGP, but there have been signs such a move has been in the works.
In October Amazon opened a single experimental shop in its home city of Seattle, stocked with 6,000 books primarily chosen based on their ratings on the retailer’s website. ‘Amazon Books is a physical extension of Amazon.com,’ the VP of Amazon books, Jennifer Cast, said at the time. ‘We’ve applied 20 years of online bookselling experience to build a store that integrates the benefits of offline and online book shopping.’
It’s not the only online-only retailer to have got its hands dirty with bricks and mortar in the last few years. In the UK, upmarket cycling wear store Rapha, fashion seller Boden and furniture retailer Loaf have all made the move from ecommerce to the high street. It seems that while consumers are happy to grab an online bargain there’s still a place for the ‘experiential’ side of shopping.
What’s perhaps most interesting is the scale of Amazon’s ambition – its plan for 400 stores compares to Barnes & Noble’s (the biggest US bookstore chain) 640 shops and Waterstones’ 300 or so stores in the UK. The latter could be in trouble if Amazon’s new chain has its eyes set on these shores, but the real threat of Amazon’s apparent newfound interest in bricks and mortar extends well beyond the relatively modest market for books.
Though Amazon was once all about the books it’s now competing with retailers of much else besides and even seems intent on entering Britain’s increasingly fragmented fresh food market (hence Sainsbury’s attempts to find safety in numbers with Argos).
One advantage old-school retailers do have over the likes of Amazon is speed – for most consumers it’s quicker to pop to the shop than to wait for a package to arrive. If the behemoth can find a way to combine the best parts of bricks and mortar with the low prices its website manages offer then the nation’s and the world’s retailers could be in for another good hiding.