February 3, 2016 6:00 PM, EST
Amazon Plans to Open Hundreds of Bookstores, Mall Executive Says
The CEO of a huge mall operator said Inc. plans to take its Seattle brick-and-mortar bookstore experiment to hundreds of locations across the country.

In an earnings call with analysts, General Growth Properties CEO Sandeep Mathrani said Amazon's goal "is to open, as I understand, 300 to 400 bookstores."

The executive was discussing how malls still are relevant to customers and complementary to booming e-commerce, because those malls are a convenient place not only to browse merchandise, but also to make in-store returns.

Amazon opened its first brick-and-mortar bookstore in November in Seattle's University Village, betting that its rich hoard of customer data would allow it to pick books local readers would like while making a store run more efficiently.

It's unclear how well-grounded Mathrani's comments are. Amazon said it doesn't comment on "rumors and speculation." Kevin Berry, a spokesman for General Growth Properties, declined to provide further detail "beyond the remarks made during this morning's earnings call."

But The New York Times reported late Feb. 2, citing an anonymous source, that Amazon does have plans to open more bookstores like the Seattle one, just on a far more modest scale than what Mathrani mentioned.

Internet-based retailers such as Bonobos and Warby Parker, both of which opened locations in Seattle last year, have been keen on establishing physical roots. These e-commerce players see brick-and-mortar stores not only as a way to capture customers reluctant to go online but also as an extension of their brand.

David Ryder/Bloomberg News

But for Amazon, a large-scale bookstore ramp-up would represent a surprising shift in strategy, despite the effort put in the U-Village experiment, where books lie on shelves with the cover facing outward and have cards with reader reviews or ratings from the company's website.

After all, Amazon not only got its start selling physical books online: It altered the way many people read. It also changed the economics of the publishing industry, when the Kindle helped create a huge market for e-books.

Mathrani said that for malls, e-commerce is "actually your friend, not your enemy."

General Growth Properties owns more than 120 retail properties nationwide.

Just within the past couple of months, Amazon has been said to be launching its own package delivery fleet, unveiled unmanned package delivery drones, purchased thousands of branded truck trailers, negotiated the leasing of jets for its own air-cargo service and expanded its logistics reach in China by registering as an ocean freight forwarder.