Sunday, January 6, 2013

Box Bookstores

Barnes & Noble posted a big dip in holiday sales this year. I can still remember as a kid when Borders and Barnes & Noble came to Anchorage and my parents, being small business owners themselves, insisted we shop at the independent local alternative whenever possible.

I shopped in B&N before Christmas this year. I was in the store for about an hour and no one ever asked me if I needed help. Yes, it was days before Christmas and the lines were long, but still. At checkout, the clerk asked if I wanted to renew my membership. I weighed the fee against how much I was likely to spend there in a year and decided it wasn't worth it (i.e. the member discount wouldn't cover the fee). We had a short, friendly conversation and he conceded that he thought if the fee were a bit lower more people would bite, and then I admitted I mostly shop for books online. Then he said something about how when everyone does that, local jobs disappear. 

He wasn't antagonistic about it, just stating a fact, and while what he said is assuredly true - why should I shop at B&N? I got less out of my B&N experience than I do out of regular Amazon shopping. Since I'm a bit of a book fiend, I appreciate that Amazon tracks my purchases and then makes suggestions for similar books. I like that I get a monthly mailer with editor's picks and all the best new releases. And when no one in B&N even asked if I needed help, they're clearly not competing on the "customer experience" front. Further, now that I have a phone with 3G, I whipped it out and saw that the Kindle price for a certain book was $4 less than the version sitting on a B&N display table. That was an easy decision.

Even more confusingly, the first thing that greets you when you walk into this particular B&N is a giant display area for the Nook, their e-reader. And I think there was floor staff dedicated to hawking it, as opposed to helping me. Yeah, things are going the way of the e-reader, but you still need to shore up the base!

The whole business model seems fraught. I don't really like walking the aisles at B&N. I find it overwhelming and most the end displays seem to be geared toward a consumer who isn't me. 

Conversely, I still love a good used/indie bookstore, a place with a shelf full of employee recommendations where you can get store credit for bringing old stuff in. After B&N, my mom and I went over the University of Oregon bookstore and I really enjoyed it. So much so, I wound up buying three books that I hadn't intended to. 

B&N, you're doing it wrong.


ANCinsomniAK said...

ANCinsomniAK said...
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