Texas’ first Amazon Books store opens in Austin with better prices for Prime members

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The physical world of Amazon Books has made it to Texas. The online retailer today opens its first store so far this year and it’s in Austin’s Domain Northside.

The store is designed to hold all the books considered great reads by Austinites and more put together by a team that culls customers’ online preferences to fill the racks with books. All books face out in Amazon’s version of a bookstore. Below the book is a review card saying why customers said they loved the read.

Prices are on the back of books and there are price scanners around the 4,800-square-foot store, but Prime members are encouraged to bring their phones to find their prices, said Mariana Garavaglia, director of stores for Amazon Books. “Prime members get the same prices in stores and online.”

The stores are all about discovery, “the voice of the customer” and more than 20 years of online retailing experience, she said. Amazon Books has a team of curators who decide on what’s on the shelf by looking at customer reviews, ratings, Kindle e-book reading behavior, sales and pre-orders, plus “the team’s depth of knowledge and passion for books,” she said. On average, books in the stores have a rating of 4.3 stars. Stores also stock “hidden gems,” which Garavaglia said, is similar to the online experience where shoppers are alerted to lesser known books with similar tones, settings or plots. All stores have local features. Austin has a children’s section and

Amazon opened its first bookstore in its headquarters city of Seattle in 2015 and now has 14 in California, Illinois, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Texas and Washington. Other planned stores for this year are also in new markets: Long Tree, Colorado and its first two in the Washington D.C. area, in Georgetown and Bethesda, Md.

Amazon calls its bookstores a physical extension of its online bookselling and says it reflects more than 20 years of its online customer-focused business. The stores are supposed to integrate “the benefits of offline and online shopping,” Garavaglia said in an interview Monday. Stores also sell Amazon’s electronics.

The real estate strategy for opening new stores for bookstores years ago was the number of college graduates in a 5-mile radius. Garavaglia said Amazon has so much of its own data, its customers shopping patterns tell it where to put a store.

“We work backwards from our customer. We know Austin is a vibrant book community and that Domain is a shopping destination,” Garavaglia said.

Simon Property Group opened Domain in 2007 and there are now four hotels on the property. The area has a daytime population of more than 630,000 and is surrounded by more than 415,000 households with average household income is more than $92,000.

Amazon is growing its bricks.

In its last earnings call, Amazon started breaking out revenue from physical store sales now that it owns Austin-based Whole Foods Market. There’s more.

The Amazon Pop-Up, which is a shop mostly in malls that stock the full range of Amazon’s brand of electronics, the Echo, Fire and Kindle devices, number 62 and counting including a few so far in Whole Foods stores.

Finally, Amazon is inside Kohl’s stores started last year. There are 84 of those with Pop-Ups and areas to make Amazon online purchase returns. Kohl’s said last week that that program is being evaluated for expansion.

Garavaglia wouldn’t say if Amazon has plans for a bookstore in Dallas. How many more are in Amazon’s future?

“As many as make sense,” Garavaglia said.

Twitter: @MariaHalkias

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