Amazon Books’ first Washington, D.C. location opened Tuesday on M Street, offering two stories of the online retail giant’s brick-and-mortar bookstore concept.
The M Street location is the 15th of its kind in the country and modifies Amazon’s online model for the physical store. Using Goodreads reviews, Amazon ratings, Kindle data and other virtually aggregated information, the store stocks nearly 5,600 “highly curated” titles.
“Our stores kind of reflect the tastes, passions and interests of millions of customers,” said Mariana Garavaglia, head of stores and retail operations for Amazon Books, in an interview with The Hoya. “Every store has especially locally curated features that are specific to that store.”
The store focuses on “discovery,” with sections like “If You Like…,” which features popular books alongside lesser-known titles with similar themes, and “Page Turners,” a selection of books that a majority of Kindle readers finished in three days or less. Every book in the store is rated four stars or above on Amazon.com; the average rating of the books in the Georgetown store is 4½ stars.
Amazon Books’ signature feature is that all books in the store face outwards, making it easier than ever to judge a book by its cover.
“We wanted to have that discoverability element of each book facing out and communicating its own essence,” Garavaglia said.
Though every book is displayed with a review card, there are no prices listed with books. Rather, customers can check inside a book cover for the list price, scan the book with an in-store price checker or use the Amazon app to see the Amazon Prime price. Amazon Prime uses a shifting price system, necessitating the lack of a price listing in Amazon Books.
An Amazon Prime membership, which gives customers two-day delivery and access to certain discounts, allows Amazon Books shoppers to save what they would on books online.
“The prices on Amazon.com can fluctuate a bit,” Garavaglia said. “We want to make sure that we’re always giving customers the same great price that they can get online.”
The store is also cashless: Customers can use the Amazon app to pay from their phone. However, shoppers must still check out at the register if they use the app option.
Georgetown’s 10,000-square-foot store is one of the largest Amazon Books storefronts to date. The location devotes several tables to Amazon devices like Echo and Alexa, complete with seating for customers to sit and test the devices.
“For a lot of customers, this is the first time that they’re interacting with Alexa,” Garavaglia said.
The bottom floor of the store includes a children’s section with a small play area, which features activities and Kindles for children. A distinct section in the Georgetown store is the Amazon Launchpad, which highlights games and gadgets by the “brightest startups.” The store also has D.C.-centric offerings, like D.C. Books for Kids.
The store also includes an Allegro Coffee cafe; Allegro is owned by Whole Foods, which Amazon purchased in August 2017. The cafe serves pastries from The Sweet Lobby, a local vendor, and stocks snacks from Union Kitchen startups like Snacklins.
Although the Amazon Books is about halfway between Georgetown University and The George Washington University’s Foggy Bottom campus, the store does not offer textbooks. It does, however, stock education-related materials, such as the books found in its “Learning a New Language” section.
Although Amazon Books may not cater specifically to nearby college students, the university population is one reason for the location on M Street, in addition to heavy foot traffic in the commercial area.
Garavaglia cited Amazon’s history as a bookseller as the foundation for the company’s progression into brick-and-mortar retail. Amazon was founded in 1994 as an online bookstore. While it has expanded into nearly every form of retail since, Amazon Books is in line with that original mission.
“Books are in our DNA,” Garavaglia said. “We want to ensure that customers have the option to read however they like, in whatever format they like.”