Bookstore owners often think of Amazon.com as the enemy.
Now itâ€™s becoming one of them.
At 9:30 Tuesday morning, the online retail giant will open its first-ever brick-and-mortar retail store in its 20-year life in University Village.
The store, called Amazon Books, looks a lot like bookstores that populate malls across the country. Its wood shelves are stocked with 5,000 to 6,000 titles, best-sellers as well as Amazon.com customer favorites.
Last month, the online book newsletter Shelf Awareness broke the story that Amazon was developing the store in the former Blue C Sushi location.
There is some irony in Amazon opening a physical store. For years, it could undercut physical retailers on price because it didnâ€™t have brick-and-mortar locations. But those stores offered something Amazon couldnâ€™t: the instant gratification of owning an item the second it was purchased, as well as the personal touch of a knowledgeable sales clerk.
But Amazon is betting that the troves of data it generates from shopping patterns on its website will give it advantages in its retail location that other bookstores canâ€™t match. It will use data to pick titles that will most appeal to Seattle shoppers.
And that could also solve the business problem that has long plagued other bookstores, unsold books that gather dust on shelves and get sent back to publishers. More than most book retailers, Amazon has deep insight into customer buying habits and can stock its store with the titles most likely to move.
The company will stock best-sellers, of course. But it will also include books that get the highest ratings from its customers, including little-known titles. The store will also include such categories as â€œMost Wished-For Cookbooks.â€ Another section features â€œAward Winners, 4.5 Stars & Above, Age 6-12.â€
Data only goes so far, though. Book lovers often see stores are a piece of their community. And some blame Amazon, and online retail more broadly, for slow demise of independent booksellers.
Jennifer Cast, vice president of Amazon Books, is careful to say the store wonâ€™t be stocked solely on data.
â€œItâ€™s data with heart,â€ she said. â€œWeâ€™re taking the data we have and weâ€™re creating physical places with it.â€
Some of that data includes reviews from the millions of Amazon customers who have left appraisals of books on the website. Below each book on the shelf is a card with either a review or a rating from the site.
And the company also has included a staff favorites section that will change from time to time. For the opening, section includes a few of Amazon Chief Executive Jeff Bezosâ€™ favorite titles, including â€œThe Gift of Fearâ€ by Gavin de Becker, â€œThe Five Love Languagesâ€ by Gary Chapman, and â€œTrapsâ€ by his wife, MacKenzie Bezos.
â€œA page-turner written by an award-winning novelist, who also happens to be my wife,â€ Bezos writes.
The review cards are similar to the staff favorite notes found at many bookstores. But Cast believes that adding comments from passionate readers adds a wide range of voices recommending titles.
â€œThe bookstores I love celebrate reading,â€ Cast said. â€œWhat better way to celebrate reading than to have the voices of readers under our books.â€
Amazonâ€™s customers help select books for the store in other ways as well. The new store includes, for example, â€œBald, Fat & Crazy: How I Beat Cancer While Pregnant with One Daughter and Adopting Anotherâ€ by Stephanie Hosford, a title that ranks 622,923 in books sold on Amazon. But those who have read it seem to love it. The book has a 5-star rating from all 56 customers who have reviewed it on the site.
One other way the store, with 5,500 square feet of retail space and 2,000 square feet of storage, is distinct from traditional bookstores: Every book will be facing out, rather than stacked tightly with only their spines showing. That leaves far less space for books. But Cast said that Amazon wanted to showcase authors and their work, rather than cramming as many titles as possible on shelves.
â€œWe realized that we felt sorry for the books that were spine out,â€ Cast said.
Amazon will charge the same price for books in the store as it does online.
Amazon had reached out to sales staff at local stores, such as Third Place Books. It wound up hiring 15 employees, including librarians, retail clerks and even a receptionist from Amazon, who loves reading.
Ever since Shelf Awareness broke the story about the possibility of Amazon opening a retail store, there have been many rumors and much speculation about what it would be. The store will not be a location to pick-up Amazon orders. It wonâ€™t be a showcase for Amazon Publishing imprints, whose titles often arenâ€™t picked up by the companyâ€™s retail competitors.
And while the store will showcase some of Amazonâ€™s gadgets, such as its Kindle e-readers, its Fire tablets and its Fire TV streaming media devices, it will be first-and-foremost a bookstore.
â€œOur goal is to do a great job selling lots of books,â€ Cast said.
Amazon has opened pop-up stores over the years to sell its Kindle devices. And itâ€™s been replacing bookstores on college campuses with pick-up locations where students can retrieve orders.
The company chose Seattle for its first physical bookstore because its close to Amazonâ€™s headquarters and because Seattle is a top market for readers. Cast declined to detail future plans, including additional locations.
â€œWeâ€™re completely focused on this bookstore,â€ Cast said. â€œWe hope this is not our only one. But weâ€™ll see.â€