Amazon’s physical bookstores may have more in common with the chains they’re following than it first appeared. Geekwire reports that the store has implemented a new pricing strategy on the books it sells, at the locations it already has in Seattle, San Diego, and Portland, as well as those it will open soon in Boston and Chicago. Now it’s necessary to be an Amazon Prime member to buy the book at the price Amazon charges on its website. Non-Prime members will have to pay the regular list price.
It’s not as onerous a restriction as it might appear. Amazon now offers Prime on an $11 monthly basis, rather than only $99 per year, and also offers the same 30-day free trial to bookstore shoppers that it does to online customers. Plus, Prime offers many other benefits than just discounted books, including no-cost 2-day package shipping, access to Amazon Prime Now same-day delivery where available, streaming music and video catalogs, and so on.
It’s not exactly surprising that Amazon is trying to drive more customers to Prime, given that Prime customers have a tendency to shop more frequently at Amazon. As Geekwire notes, Bezos wants to make Prime look so good that it’s irresponsible not to be a member. That means offering special deals on Kindles and other Amazon hardware or benefits like Audible Channels exclusively to Prime members. It also means tuning Amazon.com’s price-picking algorithm to choose deals that are the best deals only if you’re a Prime member and can take advantage of that no-cost two-day shipping.
And it’s also not an entirely new idea from the bookstore point of view. In fact, Waldenbooks was offering a 10% discount card program back in the 1980s. My parents subscribed to it for a year at something like $10 or $20, but dropped it once the price jumped to $50 a year, reasoning they would never spend enough on books in a year to get their money’s worth at that rate. Similarly, Borders offered and Barnes & Noble offers such a program as well–though the discounts available there aren’t quite as high as Amazon can manage, nor do they offer all of Prime’s other benefits.
Another difference is that Amazon Prime members likely won’t need the benefit of a discount card they can flash before ringing up the transaction. Indeed, the Amazon store might well be able to tell if a customer is a Prime member simply by swiping their credit card. It already uses the Amazon account tagged to a customer’s credit card to know where to email a receipt, much as Square does when it processes customer credit card transactions.
Perhaps this move might also reduce some of the grumbling that Amazon is using its bulk-buying power to provide unfair discounts to its bookstore customers beyond what other bookstores can offer. After all, without benefit of Prime, Amazon Books will be selling its books at exactly the same prices other bookstores do without their discount programs: 100% of publisher list.
(Found via The Digital Reader.)
I was almost certain Amazon intended to lose money on these stores, but this move makes me suspect that they’re losing more than they like. This is intended to recoup some of those losses.
I’m a contrarian. The more Amazon tries to push us toward Prime, the less appealing it becomes. I’ve also never liked the pay-to-buy ‘big box’ stores, which is what Prime resembles. I dislike paying twice.