A Peek Inside Arizona’s First Amazon Bookstore

Cody FitzpatrickDecember 2019
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The storefront of Amazon Books — Amazon’s first physical store in the state — looks a lot like that of a Barnes & Noble. The flashiest titles, such as Michelle Obama’s Becoming and Elton John’s Me, are displayed prominently in the window. What you can see on the inside looks inviting, in the aspirational way only a bookstore can make you feel. Look a little closer and see that, in addition to books, the window advertises Alexa products, smartwatches, tablets and Amazon gift cards. 

The store, located in Scottsdale Quarter, across the street from Kierland Commons, opened its doors on Nov. 17. It’s Amazon’s 20th store nationwide. 

Step inside, and see that the shop, again, looks an awful lot like a B&N. Some of the placards on the tables for featured books, though, look unusual. Instead of “Staff Picks,” there’s “Most-wished-for books on Amazon.com,” “Highly Rated: 4.8 stars & above” and “Page Turners: Books Kindle Readers Finish in 3 Days or Less” (Kindle Paperwhites are shelved underneath the sign, just like the paper books.) However the books are sorted, the selection is nothing to complain about, especially regarding the newer releases. 

Stay a little longer, and it becomes evident that this isn’t a place to comfortably browse. The tight grid of display tables makes the store feels crammed. If you wanted to sit down and sample a book, you probably couldn’t — there wouldn’t be much room, and there’d certainly be nowhere to sit, much less a Barnes & Noble–style café. 

The farther inside you go, the less it feels like a bookstore at all. The signs now say “Our picks from the Amazon Holiday Toy List” (among them is a “Love to Hug” Elmo), “Our picks from the Amazon Home Holiday Guide” (such as an air purifier), “Top culinary gifts” (presented by Discover) “Top Holiday Gifts” (also presented by Discover) and “Top Holiday entertaining gifts” (presented by Discover). 

Farther back, there are “Kindle & Fire tablets” (“Try Me!”), “Top tech gifts” (such as Bose audio sunglasses), Ring home-security products and a whole lot of Samsung stuff. 

Still, the store has its charms throughout. There are “Scottsdale Reads” and “Scottsdale Books for Kids” (like The Seed and the Giant Saguaro). A seemingly large portion of the books are presented front-facing, and that look really defines the book sections, which take up a good percentage of the 4,000 square feet.  

The aesthetic on the whole feels as if a Barnes & Noble and a Best Buy were asked to share a relatively small space, and given a clean, current appearance. It’s sleek to look at, but neither the reading audience nor the tech one is particularly well served—it’s not somewhere you’d return to with great regularity. 

Amazon Books is a place to go to if you know what book you want, and the book happens to be popular enough for the modestly sized shop. It’s not the kind of place to inspire the next generation of readers. 

In 1994, Amazon started along the path of putting a dent in the bookstore business. In a lot of ways, Amazon.com has replaced real-world bookstores. Amazon Books in Scottsdale doesn’t replace much of anything. It’s a tiny slice of Amazon, embodied in a store. 

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