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Amazon Moves Into Direct Competition With B&N College With New Unstore at University of Pennsylvania

Amazon has gained another foothold in their bid to conquer the college retail market, and this time they’re setting up shop just down the road from a B&N College store.

On Tuesday the retailer announced a new partnership with the University of Pennsylvania. Later this year, Amazon will open a 3,600 square foot package pickup point, or unstore, on the University of Pennsylvania campus. The unstore will be located at 1920 Commons building, where it will share space with the dining hall and a Starbucks.

university pennsylvania barnes nobleThe facility will feature a staffed pickup and drop off location as well as "communal work spaces with interactive media pods" where students can study privately or collaborate, and it will be located about three blocks away from the B&N-operated college bookstore (shown at right).

“We’re thrilled to bring a new experience to Penn that makes it more convenient for students to get everything they need for university life,” said Ripley MacDonald, Director of Amazon Student Programs. “We look forward to bringing this experience to even more college communities soon.”

The unstore at the University of Pennsylvania is Amazon’s first location on an Ivy League campus, and it is at least the fifth such store to open in the past year. Since 2015, Amazon has opened on-campus staffed pickup locations (Amazon@Purdue, Amazon@UMass) and they’ve also opened a couple off-campus locations near the University of California, Santa Barbara, and the University of Cincinnati (Amazon@IslaVista, Amazon@Cincinnati).

AmazonatPurdue_1[1]Amazon has also said in the press release that they have agreements to open two more locations in 2016 with the University of California, Davis and the University of California, Berkeley. (UC Davis, as you might recall, was Amazon’s first college retail partner.)

But never mind Amazon’s future plans; did you notice what today’s announcement implies about Amazon’s strategy?

Amazon has been pursuing the college retail market since at least 2013, and they’ve shifted their strategy twice now. Amazon’s first strategy was to launch an affiliate partnership with UC Davis, and that was followed by unstores which replaced a college’s bookstore with a staffed pickup locations (Amazon@Purdue, Amazon@UMass).

Now Amazon has moved past replacing bookstores and is instead directly competing with them. Both Amazon@IslaVista and Amazon@Cincinnati are located just off of campuses where Follett operates the college bookstore.

Correction: Follett operates the bookstore at Cinncinnati, but not Santa Barbara. That school has an independent bookstore (a Google search lead me in the wrong direction).

And now Amazon has an unstore in the works at the University of Pennsylvania which is only one block down and two blocks to the west of the college bookstore run by Barnes & Noble College.

Amazon is not the biggest player in the virtual college bookstore industry (that title would go to eCampus, with over 150 virtual bookstores) but Amazon is the boldest player. As the leading online retailer, Amazon is the main reason why so many schools are reporting a drop in bookstore revenues, and now Amazon is moving into direct competition with college bookstores.

This does not bode well for college bookstores like B&N College, many of which are struggling to cope with other pressures like high textbook prices and not enough rich students.

B&N spun off its college bookstore division last year into a separate company. Some have foreseen a rosy future for B&N College, but can this company survive fierce competition in a contracting market?

I don’t think so. Do you?

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[…] Amazon also has confirmed agreements to open two more locations in 2016 with the University of California, Davis and the University of Pennsylvania (the latter was announced earlier this week). […]

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