Amazon, which prides itself on being surprising, is doing two predictably unpredictable things this week.
First, the company is offering better benefits to its 222,000 employees. The hard-driving online retailer has traditionally not supplied its workers with many perks, at least compared to its peers in the technology sector. Jeffrey P. Bezos, Amazonâs founder, once pointed in the direction of Microsoft and said if Amazon became âa country clubâ like that behemoth, it would die.
So Amazon stayed lean in the smallest things. It eschewed, for example, free snacks. And it lagged in some of the biggest things: It offered no paid paternity leave and eight weeks of maternity leave.
On Monday, the biggest things changed. Amazon employees learned that birth mothers would now get 20 weeks of leave and fathers would get up to six weeks. Amazon also announced a flexible return-to-work program and an ability to share leave with a spouse who does not work for the retailer.
These benefits, the retailer told its workers, âgive you more time and more choice in how to manage your leave in the way that works best for your family.â
Amazonâs intense workplace was the subject of an article in The New York Times in August. Asked if Amazon was improving its benefits in reaction to the article, a spokesman pointed to a line in the announcement that said, âWe review our benefit programs annually and began considering our leave policies in early 2015.â
In an equally unlikely event, Amazon is opening its first store on Tuesday in the University Village mall in Seattle. An Amazon store has been rumored, and sometimes even reported as real, ever since the online retailer first made its mark in the late 1990s. In the last year alone, there have been reports of a store in Manhattan and Silicon Valley. There were also stories about negotiations to take over some of the bankrupt RadioShack outlets.
This time, however, Amazon invited The Seattle Times to preview the store, which is called, naturally enough, Amazon Books. It will stock about 5,000 titles, which as stores go is relatively tiny.
Barnes & Noble, the largest traditional bookseller, closed a 46,000-square-foot store in University Village at the end of 2011.
Local booksellers greeted the project â news of which leaked out gradually over the last month as Amazon Books stocked up and hired employees â with some befuddlement.
J.B. Dickey, who owns Seattle Mystery Bookshop, said it might be a large corporationâs small vanity project.
âA brick-and-mortar store is antithetical to what theyâre about,â Mr. Dickey said. âThe whole point of Amazon is getting what you want through your keyboard. Whatâs the point of opening a shop that demands people drive to it?â
He cited all the drawbacks of a traditional store, including the need to pay rent, hire employees, work with low margins and persuade customers to battle Seattleâs merciless traffic. Amazon plans to charge the same prices in the store as it does online.
The company remained noncommital about its longer-term plans.
âWeâre completely focused on this bookstore,â Jennifer Cast, vice president of Amazon Books, told The Seattle Times. âWe hope this is not our only one. But weâll see.â