Retail can sometimes be pretty predictable. Significant events such as market entries or exits, new launches or promotions, or changes to trading performance are often flagged up in advance.

Retail can sometimes be pretty predictable. Significant events such as market entries or exits, new launches or promotions, or changes to trading performance are often flagged up in advance.

Best Buy’s announcement that it was exiting the UK was a perfect example – it was preceded by months of rumour, which meant that when it came the official announcement surprised no one.

Every so often something comes up that nobody could have predicted. In this category I’d certainly place the recent agreement between Waterstones and Amazon, under which the former will stock the latter’s Kindle e-reader in stores. When the deal was announced there was a real feeling of shock in the retail sector.

Part of the reason was James Daunt’s branding of Amazon last year as “the enemy” and “a ruthless, money-making devil”. At the time, you got the feeling there was more chance of Asda selling Tesco private-label products then Watersones and Amazon hooking up.

The alliance has also raised questions from a business perspective. Why would Waterstones sell a device that locks its users into future purchases through the internet giant? The deal seems to strengthen Amazon while weakening Waterstones’ position long term.

My take is that, without an e-reader of its own, Waterstones felt it had little choice but to sell the Kindle or lose out altogether. It was already losing sales in the casual book sector, not just to online players but to the supermarkets.

The bookseller also aims to strengthen its position among shoppers for whom physical books are still important and for whom visiting a bookshop is still a worthwhile experience. Improved customer service, an excellent, relaxing store environment and a localised product offer will all be crucial.

Waterstones won’t be the last retailer to face such a decision. The likely launch of Amazon’s Kindle Fire tablet in the UK will hook users into an even wider range of products, such as electronics.

Retailers such as Tesco and Dixons may well be selling a piece of hardware that could effectively hamper their own non-food sales in the future.