Originally published Jan. 17, 2018, on The Hoya.
Amazon Books’ first Washington, D.C. location is set to open on M Street in Georgetown as the latest installment in the tech giant’s foray into brick-and-mortar retail.
An Amazon representative declined to give details on the opening date of the store, which will be the 14th Amazon Books location nationwide. The storefront is located at 3040 M St. NW, a space previously occupied by Barneys New York. The 10,000-square-foot space is just under a mile from Georgetown University’s front gates.
With the exception of the Barnes & Noble bookstore on Georgetown University’s campus, the Amazon Books storefront will be the closest bookseller to campus marketing new books. The Lantern Bookshop on P Street and Books Used and Rare on Wisconsin Avenue are slightly closer, but only sell used books. The Amazon location will also sell Amazon electronic devices like e-reader Kindle and smart house assistant Echo.
Amazon Books is designed as a bookstore for the digital age. The shop is cashless and does not list prices on products like normal stores, in line with Amazon’s shifting prices – instead, customers can check prices at price check stations in the store or by scanning a book with the mobile Amazon shopping app. Amazon Prime customers are entitled to certain discounts.
Amazon uses customer data to help determine the products it offers at its bookstores, calculating a combination of Goodreads popularity, Amazon.com ratings, sales and customer pre-orders.
Nearly all the books sold in the stores have received over four stars on Amazon.com reviews; however, a quick search on Amazon.com reveals 3,968,154 results for all books rated over four stars. In addition to the algorithm, Amazon employs book curators to select books to stock in store.
Jennifer Cast, vice president of Amazon Books, has referred to the stocking approach as “data with heart.” Amazon Books curators aim to add an element of discovery to the shopping experience, according to Cast.
Micah Musser (COL ’19), president of the Tocqueville Forum Student Fellows, a student group that engages with political philosophy through weekly reading groups and talks by professors on their favorite works, said the group usually purchases its books through Amazon.
“It’s just the most convenient,” Musser said.
Nonetheless, the Tocqueville Forum Student Fellows shows used bookstore appreciation in its programming, hosting a local used bookstore tour at the end of every semester.
Despite Musser’s familiarity with Amazon, he has doubts that the company’s brick-and-mortar outpost will provide the same experience as D.C.’s local bookstores.
“I think one of the greatest allures of the local bookstores is that you don’t really know what you want when you go in,” Musser said. “There’s never really going to be an authentic surprise.”
Musser is not the only one hesitant about Amazon’s move into the physical world. Reviewers of the stores for The New Yorker, Chicago Tribune and The New York Times have all expressed discomfort at the new Amazon model.
A review in The New Yorker ran with the headline, “Amazon’s Brick-and-Mortar Bookstores Are Not Built for People Who Actually Read.” The Chicago Tribune noted the irony of Amazon’s initial crowding out of the physical bookstore market in favor of online shopping, only to later move into the brick-and-mortar space.
With the imminent arrival of Amazon Books, Georgetown may epitomize this phenomenon. The new location on M Street is next door to a Nike store that used to be a Barnes & Noble.
That Barnes & Noble closed in 2011 — the same year Amazon celebrated its fastest revenue growth since 2001, announced the launch of the Kindle Fire e-reader and purchased a rival British bookseller, Book Depository.
Seven years later, it is Amazon’s turn on the block.