Seattle’s flagship Amazon Books retail location has begun rolling out a new approach to sales: one book price for normal shoppers and a different one for Amazon Prime customers.
The store used to kinda-sorta hide its actual book prices from retail shoppers, forcing them to scan book bar codes either with an Amazon smartphone app or at a store kiosk. That would allow them to see the book’s price on Amazon’s website. This, of course, was the shop’s biggest draw: that buyers could get a book at Amazon prices without waiting for shipping.
Now, as the Amazon stores’ official site explains, the only shoppers that will get to do that are those who have active Prime subscriptions. All other shoppers will pay the list book price—which, of course, Amazon undercuts. A cursory check of the books I noticed at my first visit to the shop last year shows average discounts hovering around the 30 percent mark. Further cutting into the ability to offer a deal, Amazon Books does not offer bargain-bin sections where books are marked down due to age or other factors.
The new pricing scheme, which was reported by Seattle tech news site Geekwire, saw a soft rollout beginning in August, according to Amazon reps. It’s now live at all three of the company’s current meatspace locations (the others being Portland and San Diego). Shop signage makes it very clear to shoppers that book prices will go down with an Amazon Prime subscription, which they can sign up for while checking out.
As a personal, opinion-loaded aside, I am not surprised to see this news take so long to break, even though the shops were experimenting with the two-tier pricing scheme as early as August. My last two visits to Seattle’s Amazon Books location felt like I had entered a ghost town. In July, the shop’s selection and book arrangements looked nearly identical to their status during my November 2015 visit. The staff looked deadfaced and morose. And there were only three other customers on both of my afternoon visits. This was during normal 9 to 5 business hours, but Seattle’s University Village shopping center never starves for shoppers thanks to hip shops and a prime location in the city.
The shop’s selection of Amazon-branded electronics, including Kindle e-book readers and Echo voice-assistance devices, is not subject to this Prime price differentiation. Clearly, however, Amazon wants shoppers to bite on its $99/year (or $10.99/month) subscription program. Unlike some of the other perks of Prime, including Twitch-related goodies and cloud photo storage, this one seems a little more like a one-time use situation—though it may very well drive any annoyed Amazon Books shoppers to stay home and order from the company’s site.