Amazon to close book on 68 brick-and-mortar stores

All of its storefront bookshops, pop-ups, toy and home-goods shops to shut

Jeff Bezos and the first Amazon Bookstore at 4601 26th Avenue NE, Seattle (Getty, iStock)
Jeff Bezos and the first Amazon Bookstore at 4601 26th Avenue NE, Seattle (Getty, iStock)

Amazon, which has done nothing but grow since its founding in 1994, will shutter all of its brick-and-mortar bookstores.

The e-commerce giant is scripting the final chapter for all 68 of its storefront bookstores, pop-ups and shops carrying toys and home goods in the U.S. and United Kingdom, Reuters reported.

The announcement marks an about-face for Amazon, which began as an online bookseller and helped drive retailers such as Borders out of business.

Amazon opened its first brick-and-mortar bookstore in its home city of Seattle in 2015, with a selection of more than 6,000 titles based on Amazon reviews and sales.

Since then, it has opened dozens of physical stores with various retail themes: convenience stores without cashiers, supermarkets, and a format called “4-star” in which it sells toys, household items and other goods with high customer ratings.

Amazon said it wanted to bring its online touch to the real world. Its bookstores, for instance, would pull from its vast data trove and showcase what people were reading, including reviews that people had left online.

Reviews of the book shops themselves, however, were tepid — or worse.

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“Amazon’s Brick-and-Mortar Bookstores Are Not Built for People Who Actually Read,” read a New Yorker headline after the first Amazon bookstore opened in New York City.

The magazine called Amazon’s entry into cashier bookselling “reminiscent of an airport bookshop: big enough to be enticing from the outside but extremely limited once you’re inside.”

Amazon’s innovations in retail commerce, however, were not enough for some of its storefront experiments, according to Reuters. Its “physical stores” revenue, largely from grocery sales at its Whole Foods subsidiary, has often failed to grow at the pace of Amazon’s other businesses.

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Amazon will close its 4-star, pop-up and bookstore locations on various dates and post signs to notify customers. Workers will receive severance or find jobs at nearby Amazon stores.
In the meantime, the company’s other physical businesses continue, including Whole Foods and Amazon Fresh grocery stores. Last summer, it announced it would open several large brick-and-mortar retail locations, similar to department stores, to debut in Ohio and California.

In January, it announced plans to open a fashion store in greater Los Angeles where algorithms suggest what to try on.

Last week, Amazon opened its first Whole Foods in Washington, D.C., replete with technology letting customers check out without scanning items or seeing a cashier.
[Reuters] — Dana Bartholomew