The pandemic has many questioning whether brick-and-mortar retail will ever return to normal. Some might wait for an answer before investing in new physical retail locations, but not Amazon. The retailer continues to launch new Amazon Books locations at, compared to its competitors, a breakneck speed.
Amazon opened its first bookstore in November 2015 in Seattle, and since then they have announced, launched, or started developing 24 additional locations, including launching a store in Phoenix, AZ just over 2 weeks after the first Amazon Books location’s 4th anniversary, and filing for permits for a store in Kansas City, MO, in May 2020 (in the middle of a raging pandemic, yes). The stores carry a selection of several thousand books as well as toys, games, electronics, and Amazon hardware such as the Kindle ereader and the Echo smart speaker.
For a while there it looked like Amazon was cooling to the idea of physical bookstores; in 2018 they canceled two bookstores and converted a third location into a 4-Star store. That period of uncertainty lasted only a few months, however, with Amazon opening its next bookstore in Denver in March 2019.
Amazon has continued to open bookstores since then, and they have also started renovating older stores. In late 2019 Amazon temporarily shut down the Georgetown, Bethesda, and three other Amazon Books locations so they could refit the stores with electronic shelf labels, shift the books so they were shelved spine out, and reorganize the store layouts.
In spite of Amazon’s continued expansion, the retailer has faced less and less criticism as time passed. For the first year or so the announcement of each new Amazon Books location drew complaints from local booksellers, and after the first location opened in Seattle, the ABA started muttering about violations of antitrust law, although this ultimately proved unfounded.
Very little has been written about Amazon’s bookstores in the past few years, and yet at the same time Amazon has managed to become the fifth largest bookstore chain in the US after B&N, BAM!, Half-Price Books, and Deseret Books. (This list does not include Hudson News, which operates airport bookstores, or Follett or B&N Edu, which operate college bookstores.)
To be honest, this achievement isn’t as impressive as it would have been three or four years ago. A number of chains have failed in the past few years, including Lifeway, Book World, Hastings, and Family Christian Stores. Each of these chains had more stores than Amazon Books, but they did not have the sales to keep the stores open.
Amazon does, or so we assume. The retailer has not revealed revenue figures for their stores, leaving us no option other than to speculate.
At the very least we can conclude that Amazon is getting something of value out of their bookstore chain. Is it sales data? Tax write offs?
Your guess is as good as mine.