Friday, July 30, 2010

Barnes & Noble Fails As Brick & Mortar Book Retailer

I had been ruminating on a suitable business topic for today's post, and was considering a macroeconomic topic.

Then I went to buy two books for a friend's birthday, and the topic presented itself. Poor retail bookselling.

I'll begin with this post concerning Barnes & Noble. You can see from nearby the five-year price chart of B&N and the S&P500Index that the former has been in free fall for the period. It now stands down more than 60% from five years ago.
Perhaps my experience is a partial explanation.
With little time before the birthday in question, and a recent Wall Street Journal review of two books by an author in hand, I figured B&N could supply me with the books instantly, due to its physical inventory, whereas Amazon might not come through in time (more on that in the next post).
The staff at the B&N help desk was polite, but couldn't make up for the store's deficiency. They had, he said, a single copy of the recently-reviewed volume, and none of the earlier work by the same author.
When I finally located the minuscule 'Nature' section, it took me more time than it should have to locate the book in question. I'm still not sure how the section was organized, but it didn't seem to be by title, as usual. In any case, in typical inventory management system fashion, there were three copies on the shelf, not the one predicted.
I took a copy and proceeded to the checkout counter to pay for it. Upon being asked for an affinity card, I handed my expired one to the clerk, who confirmed that it was no longer active.
But he didn't bother to ask if I wanted to renew it. Amazing! A $35 (if my memory is correct) add-on fee, and the guy didn't even try to resell me on the value of the card.
So much for choosing to give my custom to Barnes & Noble due to their physical inventory of books. Nowadays, the most visible display kiosk, upon entering the store, is the chain's Nook e-reader. Forget relying on them for an actual broad inventory of reasonably topical and popular books.
Not to mention sales skills.

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