Amazon’s first Washington-area bookstore is set to open Tuesday with two floors of books, electronics, toys and even juicers — but not a single price tag.
The online behemoth, which has helped drive a number of traditional bookstores out of business, is hoping its loyal online following will translate into in-store customers on Georgetown’s M Street NW, in the same building that Barnes & Noble once inhabited before shutting in 2011.
At 10,000 square feet, the store is among the largest of Amazon’s 15 bookstores. It includes 5,600 book titles — all of which are displayed with their covers facing out — as well as dozens of tablets and smart-home devices on display for customers to test. (Jeffrey P. Bezos, the founder and chief executive of Amazon, owns The Washington Post.)
Instead of price tags, each book comes with a review card that shows its star rating on Amazon.com and includes a snippet of a customer review. (Curious about how much something costs? Customers are encouraged to use Amazon’s mobile app to scan items for prices. Scanning machines throughout the store also alert shoppers to an item’s cost — which, for Prime members, is the same as on Amazon.com. Everyone else pays list price.)
“What we’re really trying to do is create a place where customers can come and discover new books,” said Cameron Janes, vice president of Amazon Books. “As you walk through the store, you’ll see that what we’ve really tried to do is create an extension of Amazon.com.”
“But,” he added, “unlike Amazon.com, we don’t have infinite aisle space.”
Which means, he said, the company has had to be creative about which books to stock. It has created its own method of selecting and organizing inventory based on customer data and reader habits. Everything in the store is rated 4 stars or higher on Amazon.com. Some shelves highlight books with more than 10,000 customer reviews, whereas others feature titles that Kindle readers tend to finish in three days or less.
A section called “If you like …” tries to translate the company’s online algorithms into in-store recommendations. If you like George Orwell’s “1984,” a shelf says, you’ll love Kurt Vonnegut’s “Mother Night.” The hope, Janes said, is to help customers discover unexpected titles like “Ex-Heroes” (recommended if you liked “Ready Player One.”) The thriller is currently ranked 176,661 by sales on Amazon.com.
“Not every book in the store here is a top seller,” Janes said. “We call these hidden gems.”
The opening comes amid a resurgence of independent bookstores in the Washington area. Politics and Prose, a longtime fixture in Chevy Chase, is opening two new locations in the Wharf and Union Market. A number of other neighborhood bookstores have also recently opened, including Solid State Books in the H Street corridor, East City Bookshop on Capitol Hill and Walls of Books in Parkview.
“Amazon sees what the rest of us do: that the Washington area has been underserved when it comes to books,” said Bradley Graham, co-owner of Politics and Prose. “It will serve a certain part of the market that wants what Amazon has to offer,” he said, adding that there isn’t much overlap between Amazon’s planned locations in Georgetown and Bethesda Row, and the independent bookstores that are opening in up-and-coming parts of town.
Amazon isn’t selling books only. A section called “New Year New You” includes Vitamix blenders and Breville juicers, alongside espresso makers and wellness items. The children’s section, where books are organized by age group, includes a table of magnetic toys and Fire Kids tablets. Another area, called Amazon Launchpad, features start-up creations like sous-vide cooking tools and Mason jar fermentation kits. A small coffee bar downstairs is operated by Allegro Coffee, which is owned by Whole Foods Market. (Amazon bought Whole Foods last year for $13.7 billion.)
The location in Georgetown, Janes says, reaches a number of customers, including college students, neighborhood residents and locals strolling the nearby shopping district. Another plus: Georgetown is one of the city’s wealthiest neighborhoods, which means many locals are likely to be Amazon Prime members. A recent survey by Piper Jaffrey showed that 82 percent of the country’s wealthiest households — characterized as those with more than $112,000 in annual income — were part of Amazon’s Prime program.