Seven years after Amazon opened a bookshop in Seattle’s University Village and marked a shift from its online-only existence into the brick-and-mortar shopping realm, the company announced Wednesday it is closing 66 U.S. bookstores and other retail locations, including seven spots in and around the city.
The company chose Seattle to open its first physical book shop — a 5,500-square-foot space that used data to make decisions about which bestsellers it would stock — and later expanded to more than 20 locations around the U.S. Now, Amazon is closing the doors on its bookstores, as well as its 4-Star shops where customers could find electronics, toys and home goods. A handful of Amazon pop-up shops are also closing.
The decision isn’t a move away from brick-and-mortar stores, said Betsy Harden, a spokesperson for the company, but a way to focus on its other physical stores, including Amazon Fresh, Amazon Go, Whole Foods Market and Amazon Style, its fashion experiment.
It also means the company could put more effort toward its Just Walk Out technology, the checkout-free shopping that it is working to bring to more stores and venues like Seattle Center’s Climate Pledge Arena.
“We remain committed to building great, long-term physical retail experiences and technologies,” Harden said.
Amazon is working with employees at each location to identify new roles for them within the company, including at nearby Amazon stores. Employees who opt not to stay will be given severance. Closure dates vary by store.
In the Seattle area, Amazon operates bookstores in University Village and Bellevue Square. It has four 4-Star locations, including in South Lake Union, Tukwila, Kirkland and Lynnwood. South Lake Union is also home to an Amazon pop-up shop.
Despite the closures, Amazon says it plans to continue opening new stores with new formats, pointing as an example to a larger Amazon Go coming to Mill Creek. Amazon announced in January that Mill Creek would be the first in its effort to reach customers closer to their homes, by bringing the Amazon Go name and Just Walk Out technology to the suburbs.
Amazon opened its first brick-and-mortar retail store in November 2015, nearly 20 years after launching as an online book shop. The store in University Village was stocked with more than 5,000 titles picked using the data Amazon generated from its online shoppers.
“It’s data with heart,” Jennifer Cast, then-vice president of Amazon Books, told The Seattle Times. “We’re taking the data we have and we’re creating physical places with it.”
The store had 15 employees and a mission distinct from traditional bookstores: Every book would face out, rather than being stacked tightly with only their spines showing.
Three years later, the company opened Amazon 4-Star stores to highlight products that were popular on the web store. The assortment resembled the random products sold for decades by retailers such as Brookstone, and 4-Star stores failed to stand out.
Amazon has 24 bookstores, 33 4-Stars and nine mall pop-up kiosks. The company planned to open 16 more 4-Stars sites, indicating that the decision to shutter the operation was abrupt.
The Seattle-based company made its biggest move into physical retail in 2017 with the $13 billion acquisition of Whole Foods Market, which has about 450 sites. Since then, the company has also launched its own Amazon Fresh supermarkets and now has 24 sites.
The stores at University Village, Bellevue Square and other locations were closed Wednesday, the day of the announcement, and could not be reached for comment.
Amazon generated $4.69 billion in revenue from its physical stores, mostly from Whole Foods, in the quarter ending Dec. 31, or about 3% of sales.
Material from Seattle Times wire services is included in this report.
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