An Amazon Books store opened in the Garden State Plaza in Paramus, New Jersey on Wednesday, June 14th. It’s been open for about two weeks now and it’s the eighth Amazon bookstore to open nationwide. The Plaza is the largest mall in New Jersey so it makes sense that Amazon would want to open a store here. The store itself takes up about 4,000 square feet of space, about one-sixth the size of the last bookstore in this mall, which was a Borders that closed in 2011. Located on the second floor at one of the busier intersections, I’ve been curious to see what the store was like so I decided to check it out.
The first thing I can tell you is that the store is busy. So busy, it was hard to take pictures of it without someone walking into the photo. Everything is on full display and is meant to be seen in its entirety. From the books being face outwards on the shelves or sitting on tables to the Kindles and associated Amazon products like the Fire tablet and the Echo, there is plenty to see.
Going up the single step to the book section on the left, it was slightly cramped in-between shelves but the wall displays made up for that. Each book on the shelves had a review card underneath it. Some of the cards identified the name of the person reviewing the book and some of them identified the reviewer as an “Amazon Customer”. Some of them just listed a cumulative star rating while others were specific in their averages and reviews. There didn’t seem to be a specific reason as to why the review cards were like this and I did check a couple of the reviews against their specific book listings on Amazon. Only the most popular reviews were picked to be on the review cards, based on how many helpful votes it got online or if it had a really good quote or headline in the review that summed up their thoughts concisely in a sentence or so.
The books were all bestsellers that I could see and the science fiction section was only one set of shelves total. Other genres and book categories barely got more than that, though the fiction section was more spread out and had more selections. If you lifted your arms from your sides and held them at ninety degrees to your torso, your hands would touch both shelves on either side of you. That’s how close together the aisles were to each other. The covers facing outwards is a nice touch, as it shows off the cover art very well without favoring one book or another by placing some of them on the shelf with the spine outwards.
There were two chairs there as well on the far end of the store, next to the shelves, though those were the only two chairs in the whole store. I’m used to bookstores being inviting and letting you hang out for a while as you sit down in a comfortable, overstuffed chair and read some of the book to see if you like it or not. While the store is inviting you to browse, it’s not inviting you to sit down for a sustained period of time and check out their wares. The fact that the chairs were not that comfortable only adds to my theory.
Take one step down and back into the main area and on the left is the children’s book section. It was carpeted and had some toys and board games mixed in as well.
Moving over to the main floor filled with Amazon’s electronics and displays promoting their various products, there was plenty of space to admire and test out their products and their various accessories. One staff person I met on the floor was very helpful and knowledgeable about their Kindles. He said he really enjoyed the Kindle Oasis because he was left-handed and reads about a book a week on his porch. He also said that there’s been a lot of foot traffic in the store since it opened.
It would be hard to have any kind of author events here, as the floor space is filled with display tables. But if the tables were moved, it might be more likely to host a small author event or signing. I just don’t know where those tables would be moved to.
Finally, for the books, there are two different prices, one for those with a Prime membership and for those without. While you could use your Amazon app on your smartphone, I found it easier to use one of the nearby scanners. There’s the price for Prime members and for non-members. The price differences are very significant when I checked the prices of a couple of books. Of course, Prime members get a discount and free two-day shipping. The register at the front doesn’t accept any cash but you can pay using a credit card or by using the Amazon app on your smartphone.
How does the store recognize whether you are a Prime member? I asked a sales clerk that very question. You can login into your account on the Amazon app on your smartphone, which you could do whether you were in the store or not, and make a purchase that way. You could also use a credit card that you have on file with your Amazon Prime account. If you made a purchase in the past using that credit card on Amazon, the store’s computer will recognize your credit card when it is swiped in the store and they will give you the discount automatically. Finally, they said you could just show the sales clerk your Amazon Prime account using your smartphone and they’ll ring up the discount manually. When I asked about the potential for ordering online and then shipping the item to their store, like Walmart or Target does with their websites, the clerk said that was something that they might be working on in the future but she didn’t know too much about it.
When I thought about the Prime discount, it does seem similar to those $25 a year discount memberships you might get at Barnes & Noble or Books-A-Million. That Prime membership discount saves you money like those other ones do, but the Prime membership also costs $99 per year. For Prime members, this store makes it easy to buy stuff there. For members without a Prime membership, the prices are full retail. And the selection is reportedly about 3,000 titles total, so there’s not a lot to choose from but what is available is curated for maximum sales and popularity. Also, all the books I saw here were traditionally published and I didn’t see any indie titles on the shelves. If the store is meant to entice someone to join Prime, it would make a persuasive argument, just for the decrease in the price alone.
One final note, Amazon gift cards in denominations of $25, $50 and $100 are available in a snazzy gift box near the register if you just want to buy a quick gift for someone that gives them a plethora of choices.
While I didn’t purchase anything during my visit to the store, I did find it to have a pleasant atmosphere with helpful and eager staff.