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Wednesday, August 20, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 75.0° F  Overcast
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Amazon.com growth raises mixed feelings from Madison retailers
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Erin Lambert, marketing supervisor for University Book Store, sees the latest growth by Amazon.com and worries about the consequences on local business.

"It's not wonderful news for us as a retailer," she says.

The Seattle-based online retail giant has announced plans to build new warehouses in New Jersey, Texas, California, and Tennessee. The closest new Amazon warehouse to Wisconsin can be found in Jeffersonville, Indiana, in the south of the state near Kentucky.

The announcement of these new Amazon distribution centers has inspired speculation about a move at the company towards same-day shipping. Should this be implemented, it might draw some customers with a penchant for instant gratification away from local retailers. University Book Store already competes heavily with Amazon on textbook sales, and faster shipping could draw more students to the online alternative.

Amazon would make no comment on same day shipping, considering it speculation, unsubstantiated by the company. A spokesperson did not respond to queries regarding distribution centers that serve Wisconsin.

While University Book Store feels pressure from Amazon, it's not bad news for all local booksellers.

Hank Luttrell owns 20th Century Books and wouldn't mind more traffic on Amazon. He's a third-party Amazon seller, offering his products through Amazon as well as on location at his store on Park Street. Luttrell says he benefits when Amazon does, and doesn't think that same day shipping would make much of an impact.

"I don't think this is a big factor that will affect retail book sales," says Luttrell. "[Amazon] has already helped create a sea change in the industry."

Community Pharmacy employee Carole Blemker doesn't think faster shipping with Amazon will affect their mail-order or retail business much either. She estimates they ship about five orders a week to customers around the country, including many who used to live in Madison.

"I feel like the people who buy from us are pretty loyal," says Blemker. "We have a relationship with the people who use mail order."

Although she has positive experiences with Amazon as a customer, she finds those transactions "totally anonymous." Many of the pharmacy's customers come in for information and advice, not just products.

University Book Store, like Community Pharmacy, hopes to draw people to its locations with good customer service. Lambert explains that the business tries make up for Amazon's advantages by fostering a relationship with the local community, and giving back through University of Wisconsin athletics.

And, University Book Store now offers an online comparison tool that lists their prices alongside their competitors -- including Amazon and its subsidiary, AbeBooks.

"They're trying to be competitive with [retailers like] us," says Lambert. "We try to get ahead of it to retain our customers."

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