Michael Kozlowski of Good E-Reader is reporting that Amazon.com plans to open a retail store in the Seattle area in the coming months. The store will supposedly feature Kindle e-readers and tablets as well as other products, and is said to be an experiment to see if a chain of such outlets would make sense.
As a long-time Amazon addict–I suspect I give it more of my money than I do any other single merchant–I instinctively like the idea of an Amazon store.
I also understand why Amazon itself might like like the idea of such an establishment. Lots of people will order a Kindle over the web, sight unseen, but some folks would prefer to try one in person. And while Kindles are available at a bevy of retailers these days–everywhere from RadioShack to airport shops–Amazon has little or no control over the quality of the salesmanship provided by its retail partners. None of them offer an Apple Store-level shopping experience. Or, really, anything as pleasant as Amazon’s own website.
But how should Amazon translate its (mostly) wonderful online experience into a retail environment?
Part of Amazon’s online wonderfulness is the phenomenal selection–gazillions of products offered by Amazon itself, and gazillions more from third-party sellers. No store that Amazon is likely to open will try to recreate that endless choice in brick-and-mortar form, and that’s OK.
It would be cool, however, if Amazon tried its hand at other sorts of gadgets besides e-readers and tablets. It already several house brands and offers a somewhat random assortment of AmazonBasics products. If there were Amazon HDTVs or Amazon set-top boxes or Amazon phones, I’d consider buying them at an Amazon store.
Aggressive pricing is another defining aspect of the Amazon experience. For books, the company usually aggressively undercuts real-world archival Barnes & Noble’s prices, for instance. It even sells Apple products for a bit less than you’ll pay at the Apple Store or Best Buy. It’s unclear whether Amazon plans to sell anything in its store(s) that it hasn’t created itself, but it’s not going to feel like Amazon unless the prices match those at Amazon.com.
Fast checkout is also key–after all, this is the company that patented 1-Click ordering. Literally. It would be cool if buying stuff at an Amazon store was just as painless; I wonder if the company could offer something comparable to the Apple Store’s miraculous self check-out–automatically charging purchases to the credit card you registered at Amazon.com–without getting sued?
As for customer service, you’d want returns to be hassle-free, too, with no restocking fee. Bonus points if you’re able to return products to the store–Kindles, at least–which you originally bought at Amazon.com. I’m also assuming it’s a given that there will be Genius Bar-like expert tech support, something which Barnes & Noble is already trying to provide at the Nook counters in its stores.
Retail is a profoundly tough business. (Just ask anyone who was involved with the Palm stores or Gateway Country stores.) But Amazon’s in as good a position as anyone to figure out how to do it well. And it would be a big letdown if it opened stores that weren’t great–or which didn’t aspire to greatness, at least.
Amazon, if you’re scouting for locations for your second branch after the Seattle store, might I suggest checking out options here in the Bay Area?