Business & Tech

Amazon isn’t just online — it’s opening a real bookstore in Dedham

A customer looked over a book at the opening of the Amazon Books store in Seattle.

Elaine Thompson/Associated Press/File 2015

A customer looked over a book at the opening of the Amazon Books store in Seattle.

Amazon.com Inc. appears to be opening a brick-and-mortar bookstore in the Boston area, stepping further into a retail business that the online pioneer has drastically transformed over the past 20 years.

Job postings on its corporate website show that Amazon is hiring for nearly 20 positions at a new bookstore at the Legacy Place mall in Dedham. Those workers, Amazon notes, “are in the unique position of being face-to-face with our customers.”

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The new Massachusetts location would join three Amazon Books outlets: one in its hometown of Seattle, another in San Diego, and a third planned for Portland, Ore. Media reports have also indicated that Amazon may open bookstores in Chicago and New York.

The ads do not say when Amazon intends to open the Dedham store and the company did not respond to requests for comment. But the mall’s owner, WS Development, confirmed Amazon’s plans. “We are excited to be bringing Amazon Books to Legacy Place in 2017,” WS Development senior vice president Mark Roberts said.

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The advertised positions include two managers, assistant managers, and a dozen retail sales associates. Amazon also is advertising for an inventory manager who will run the store’s safety program and a consumer electronic devices leader, who would also head the store’s antitheft efforts.

Amazon began experimenting with physical bookstores in Seattle in late 2015. The company describes the stores as a blend of online and in-person retail, stocking shelves with highly rated titles and giving shoppers the option of grabbing a hard copy, having it shipped to their homes, or downloading an e-book.

The bookstores also sell Amazon’s growing line of electronic gadgets, such as its Kindle e-readers, Fire tablet computers, and Echo smart-home devices. Keith Anderson, a vice president at e-commerce consulting company Profitero, said Amazon’s bookstores are likely a “Trojan horse” for those devices.

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Many shoppers, Anderson said, are more likely to buy an electronic device if they can try it out first. And while online shopping is good at helping people buy things they already want, Anderson said, it’s more difficult to browse for unexpected purchases.

“They’ve gotten much, much better over time at helping people discover things, but there’s still very few online experiences that live up to the sort of serendipity of going to a store and just browsing and seeing what they’ve got,” Anderson said.

In the first six months of 2016, Amazon sold $10.9 billion of media products, a category that includes books, up from about $10 billion for the same period last year. But the company’s retail engine is powered by its “electronics and other general merchandise” category, which reached $42.5 billion in the first half of 2016, an increase of nearly $10.5 billion from a year ago.

Amazon’s bookstores have been relatively small spaces, said Sucharita Mulpuru, a retail strategist at Shoptalk, and probably don’t generate more than $2 million per year in sales. That means Amazon has relatively little to lose for trying a new approach.

“Even if it fails, it’s not going to matter to them. And if it succeeds, it could be the opportunity for a new strategy,” she said. “It’s almost like it’s a market research expense for them.”

Amazon’s physical infrastructure has greatly expanded in recent years. Its forays into on-site retail are the most eye-catching to everyday consumers — in addition to bookstores, Amazon has 22 “pop-up” electronics stores around the country, including one at the Natick Mall.

Amazon also has expanded its warehouse and shipping centers as it seeks to cut costs and delivery times for its vast online retailing business, and expand products such as its Fresh grocery delivery service.

The company recently built a 1.2 million-square-foot warehouse in Fall River, which is expected to employ about 500 workers. Last year Amazon leased a 96,600-square-foot refrigerated warehouse in an area of Everett where many of the region’s grocery and food distributors are also located.

Those shipping centers are a big factor in Amazon’s storefront experiments, Anderson said, allowing the company to open retail shops with little on-hand inventory. That’s a much more flexible approach than the model employed by old big-box bookstore retailers, which were hamstrung by their large, expensive storefronts when they were hit by online competition, he said.

“Everybody has spent the last decade arguing that stores are not dead, stores have a future,” Anderson said. “The reality is, they do — it’s just they have a very different texture going forward.”

Massachusetts is also a key location for Amazon’s technology teams. The company has leased more than 170,000 square feet in Kendall Square, where its employees work on projects such as the speech technology that powers the Echo’s virtual assistant service. It also runs a large robotics operation in North Reading after acquiring Kiva Systems Inc. in 2012 for $775 million.

Curt Woodward can be reached at curt.woodward@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @curtwoodward.
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