After helping drive many U.S. bookstore chains out of business, Amazon has been opening its own retail stores, starting in Seattle in late 2015.
Its first Amazon Books location in New York City opens Thursday morning in Manhattan’s Shops at Columbus Circle, which was previously home to a pretty large — and now closed — Borders Books and Music.
As far as New York City malls go, it’s one of the nicest. Situated diagonally across the street from Central Park and above a major subway station, Amazon’s shop should attract a mix of out-of-town visitors and locals who work or live in the area.
Amazon Books is on the third floor, a few steps from Thomas Keller’s Bouchon Bakery.
Amazon invited journalists into the store yesterday for a preview. There’s still scaffolding hiding the façade from the rest of the mall, so it’s missing some natural ambient light. But this is Amazon Books.
Inside, it’s brightly lit with a subtle warmth. And the first table, right inside the door, shows the kind of data-informed curation that Amazon seems to be aiming for: “Highly Rated” books, rated 4.8 stars and above — on Amazon’s website, of course.
Amazon uses its data throughout the store, including up-to-date star reviews on title cards for each book, as well as for other curation.
Here’s my favorite example: An endcap called “Page Turners,” consisting of books that Kindle readers finish in three days or less. Clever.
There’s also a section where Amazon replicates the “you might also like” functionality of its website. For example, if you liked the Elon Musk biography by Ashlee Vance, Amazon thinks “you’ll love” this Tim Ferriss book or “Shoe Dog” by Nike founder Phil Knight.
One thing my tour guide pointed out: Notice you don’t see any book spines here? Amazon isn’t trying to cram its entire inventory into this store. Every cover is on display. This works particularly well in the cookbook section.
Here’s what one of those title cards looks like. This might be the only store in the world, by the way, where you’re encouraged to scan that barcode into the Amazon app.
Notice there’s no price on there. That’s because pricing works differently here, too. If you’re an Amazon Prime subscriber, you pay the current Amazon price for each book — usually well below suggested retail price. If you’re not a Prime member, though, you’re paying full retail — unless you want to sign up for a trial Prime subscription in the store. (Aha!)
For price lookups, in addition to the Amazon app — which you can also use to pay — there are barcode readers throughout the store that have real-time prices.
It’s mostly books here, but there’s a gadget section for things like Amazon’s Echo devices, Alexa-compatible smart home gizmos, Kindles and tablets, and a dozen AmazonBasics items, including iPhone chargers and AAA batteries.
Industry insiders believe the stores are just as much about marketing Amazon gadgets as they are about selling books. An Amazon executive admitted as much on an earnings call with analysts earlier this year.
Here, you can pick up a Joule sous vide cooking device, plus related books and accessories, right in one spot.
The checkout process is pretty straightforward — there’s a line and kiosks where you can scan your items, swipe a credit card, etc.
So, how was it?
Really, it just feels like a normal mall bookstore.
There are some clever Amazon touches to it, and I wouldn’t be surprised if there weren’t some efficiencies on the back end that could eventually make this a better business for Amazon than brick-and-mortar bookstores have been for bookstore companies. (It doesn’t feel massively oversized, for one thing.)
But it also doesn’t have anything really special going on — not yet, at least.
While Apple is trying to turn its stores into “modern-day town squares” where people hang out and learn creative skills, this very much feels like a straightforward, nice-enough bookstore.
There’s no café, not really anywhere to sit and read, nothing special about the fixtures, a very boring magazine selection and a collection of books that feels blandly standard — not the sense of opinionated curation you’d find at a boutique like Brooklyn’s new Books Are Magic.
But that’s always been what Amazon does best: Predictable, good value and reliable for the masses.
And hey, now there’s a bookstore in the mall again.
This article originally appeared on Recode.net.