Does Amazon Books need coffee?

Photo: Amazon
Sep 01, 2017

Amazon Books on Tuesday in New York City opened its 11th location, its third selling coffee.

The coffee space, located in a connecting room adjacent to the book store, is operated by Portland-based Stumptown Coffee Roasters.

In an interview with RetailWire at the location on 34th Street, just across from the Empire State Building, Jennifer Cast, VP of Amazon Books, said the company also has coffee shops inside its Chicago and Dedham, MA stores. The Chicago store also features Stumptown while Dedham offers Peet’s Coffee, the San Francisco Bay Area specialist that acquired Stumptown in 2015.

Ms. Cast said the decision to add a coffee shop depends in part on the size of the location — some Amazon Book stores are located inside malls that already include nearby coffee shops. But she admits adding coffee shops is an “experiment” as Amazon remains in the learning stage while opening its first brick & mortar stores.

“Coffee and books go together like peanut butter and jelly,” said Ms. Cast. “Our goal is to have very high quality coffee and to see if people enjoy a coffee shop on its own and whether people enjoy having a cup of coffee and browsing a book store.”

Amazon Books will have two more openings in 2017, including one featuring a coffee shop.

Ms. Cast said the stores continue to be well received. Fans are responding particularly well to its themed sections and how’s ratings and reader recommendations are integrated into the store’s aisles.

She said one of the ongoing “misinterpretations” about Amazon Books is that the selections are driven by algorithms. Amazon Books’ curators are “pouring over information” beyond sales, including customer ratings, popularity on Goodreads and their own assessments, to determine selections. 

Ms. Cast declined to speculate on how Amazon Books complements Amazon’s other brick & mortar experiments, including AmazonFresh, Amazon Go and just-acquired Whole Foods. She said, “My team and I are solely focused on book stores and delighting our customers in book stores.”

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Should Amazon Books offer coffee at its locations? How do you think Amazon Books complements Amazon’s other pushes into physical retail?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
"Offering coffee has worked for Barnes & Noble for years so why shouldn’t it work for Amazon?"
"I’ve yet to visit a bookstore that couldn’t benefit from offering caffeine and provisions."
"Yes, they need to offer coffee but in an Amazon way."

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15 Comments on "Does Amazon Books need coffee?"

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Phil Masiello

Coffee in a bookstore has become a consumer expectation. Thus, Amazon should have the offering in all of their stores. Using a third party is smart. Amazon has no credibility in the coffee space, so using a known brand works better. It keeps everyone focused on what they do best.

Bookstores, food stores and brick-and-mortar in general are designed to do one thing for Amazon. They want as many points of contact to get the product to the consumer the fastest. I think they realize that if they want to own the food delivery space, they need stores. Food cannot be handled well through centralized warehouses. The books stores can serve two purposes — pickup locations and delivery launch points for books and other products.

I think Amazon is a juggernaut that will only be stopped when it begins to make bad decisions. Until then …

Bob Phibbs

So Barnes & Noble rises from the ashes as something “innovative” for Amazon?

Art Suriano

Offering coffee has worked for Barnes & Noble for years so why shouldn’t it work for Amazon? It’s a nice-to-have, and for those spending time in the store it’s an excellent customer service item. Plus it adds to the bottom line even when it’s a third party providing the service as they are paying rent and probably a percentage of sales. Amazon Books currently has the opportunity to attract customers because of customer curiosity. So anything Amazon can do to wow their customers during their time visiting their stores, Amazon should do. Selling coffee is just one idea. But knowing Amazon, it won’t stop there.

Brandon Rael

Yes of course! The coffee and book combination is a natural customer expectation, which goes back to when Barnes & Noble started to dominate the book selling market in the late ’90s. Amazon would be wise to continue this strategy. Customers who still buy physical books and, time willing, enjoy the opportunity to sample the products, enjoy a nice cup of coffee and like to stay for a while. All of which may lead to plenty more chances to up-sell products and sell more things, as the customers will be staying in the stores for longer periods of time.

Otherwise, without coffee, the stores may only become a physical manifestation of the online channels, focusing on the transactions and efficiencies and not the added multi-sensory benefits of sitting down with a good book and enjoying a coffee.

Jasmine Glasheen

I’ve yet to visit a bookstore that couldn’t benefit from offering caffeine and provisions.

In fact, even before the uprising of online shopping and necessity for experiential retail, the most successful clothing shops and bookstores had espresso machines and comfortable seating for their customers. I’m thinking here of local boutiques, as well as bookstore superpowers like Barnes & Noble.

I imagine this pilot will be successful for Amazon. Provided, of course, that they serve good coffee!

Joanna Rutter
5 years 2 months ago

I’m not sure what delights me about the phrase, “Coffee and books go together like peanut butter and jelly” being used by an Amazon exec. Perhaps because it sounds like a recipe for something kind of obvious? Stumptown’s delicious and buzzy. It’s a logical move. But the recipe for a great bookstore is much more nuanced. I’d never say stop watching and learning from Amazon, but putting two products in one space does not a bookstore make, nor can the smell of (very, very good) coffee generate the emotional buy-in or place-making power of an indie bookshop.

Ryan Mathews

Only if they also offer tea for those of us with more sophisticated taste.

Seriously, it sort of seems like a no-brainer considering that so many other bookstores do it and hipsters love their coffee. The next wave of innovation — craft beers in the bookstores?

As to the second question, “complements” is the right word. Amazon built its digital business one category at a time and it looks like it is taking a similar approach to physical retailing. What’s next? Maybe an Amazon consumer electronics store?

Lyle Bunn (Ph.D. Hon)

Coffee says “relax and open your mind just a little further,” and so indeed it belongs in bookstores, as well as other shopping locations. Grocery, apparel and sporting goods can benefit in the way that auto dealers, financial services and many others add to the on-location experience. If coffee can inspire and extend a visit, it takes almost no thought. If the space for coffee service can add more in profit than merchandise, even without attribution to product sales, then coffee and refreshment it is.

Meaghan Brophy
Meaghan Brophy
Senior Retail Writer
5 years 2 months ago

Does Amazon Books NEED coffee? No. Will it help? Sure. But neither having nor not having coffee will be the end-all-be-all recipe for success or disaster for Amazon’s bookstore pilot. Borders had a great coffee shop. Growing up, Borders bookstore and coffee shop was the place to be on a Friday night. Sadly, being a cool hangout spot is not enough to make a store profitable.

Richard J. George, Ph.D.

The coffee option needs to be considered within the strategic context of what Amazon’s positioning is of its bookstores. If it intends to be Barnes & Noble like, coffee makes sense. I recall several years ago when a person was complaining at a Barnes & Noble. Her comment to the store manager was, “what kind of bookstore is this?” To which the perplexed manager asked her what she meant. To which she replied, “you are out of Caffè Latte.”

On the other hand, such coffee space could be dedicated to other book-related (leisure time) Amazon offerings, reinforcing the Amazon image and generating higher incremental sales.

Amazon continues to experiment in the physical retail world. This is simply another controlled test of the marketplace.

Lee Peterson

Definitely YES! What’s more symbiotic than coffee and books? Right. Nothing!

Julie Bernard
Amazon continues to explore, innovate and impress. The most interesting part of its brick-and-mortar forays is hardly the dark roast, however; it’s the data (the topic on which Jennifer Cast shines a light here). There may not be another retailer on the planet with a comparable commitment to deep consumer analytics, with virtually all of this information collected on-site, all of it first-party and all of it tied to actual shopping behaviors. Amazon’s analytics power is the capital it needs to build and grow — and then refine and perfect — physical footprints that are true fusions of metrics-driven insights and creative curation. And what’s more, it’s clear that Amazon is not trying to replicate its (almost) anything/everything online experience in a mall or storefront location. Instead, it’s turning to select experiences, inspired theme-based inventory, and, yes, established and attractive touches … a cup of Joe while browsing or thumbing through your paperbacks. Every retailer can take note of Amazon’s continued success story in this regard. This is how it’s done and this approach is… Read more »
Joel Rubinson

Yes, they need to offer coffee but in an Amazon way. Perhaps tasting stations with an ability to instantly order bags on Amazon. Perhaps somehow having Alexa involved … with music playing on Echos in the coffee area. These shops need to be a physical expression of the Amazon brand — one of the most powerful in the world.

Kiri Masters

If it ain’t broke…. Serving coffee in bookstores through 3rd party partnerships is something that transforms a retail environment into a destination, helps customers to linger and ultimately, purchase more.

That doesn’t necessarily mean only purchasing more products while in the store, though that’s probably a KPI for the executive interviewed for this piece. Since buying at Amazon’s bookstores essentially requires Prime membership, customers must further buy in to the Amazon ecosystem flywheel, including other physical retail stores.

Shep Hyken

Coffee in the Amazon book store … why not? It’s part of the bookstore experience. And, as Amazon gets into the physical retail space, it makes sense to go into the industry they know most about. The goal for Amazon is to make the physical in-store experience match up — or exceed — the online experience they’ve created. People depend on Amazon for great product, great service, good pricing and a frictionless experience.

"Offering coffee has worked for Barnes & Noble for years so why shouldn’t it work for Amazon?"
"I’ve yet to visit a bookstore that couldn’t benefit from offering caffeine and provisions."
"Yes, they need to offer coffee but in an Amazon way."

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