It’s been awhile since I’ve blogged about Barnes & Noble here. Usually, when they’ve done something that catches my eye, I save it for Mad Genius Club. However, I came across an article this morning that simply begged for me to write about it today. I found it almost immediately after reading about the Bay Area losing another B&N store and after hearing that Len Riggio bought up another million shares in the company. Put it all together and, at least to me, it shows how B&N and its management still fails to understand the marketplace.
Let’s get the latter two articles out of the way first. The B&N store in San Jose’s Eastridge Mall is closing. The official shuttering date is Jan. 11. This lets B&N run its closeout sale during the holidays. At least that is good planning. However, this is at least the third B&N to close in the area in the last year or two, if I remember correctly. More to the point, this store is located in an area where it should thrive, at least looking at median home values. The median value in San Jose is $934,000 and in Fremont they are $967,000. So what is B&N doing wrong that it can’t keep its brick and mortar stores open in this area?
Now we have news that Len Riggio, B&N’s founder and chairman, has bought up another million shares of stock in the company. This gives him 4 million plus shares in the company and something like a 19% ownership stake. This should not give investors or customers any warm fuzzy feelings because it has been under Riggio’s various times at the helm that B&N has failed to flounder its way out of its current troubles.
Now for the news that really struck me as a “What the hell are they thinking?” move. It’s been no secret that you could order books and other items from the B&N website for less than you could buy them going into the stores. In a way, that makes sense. After all, those items don’t come with the same overhead that items in a store will have. However, it is also sort of not only a dick move but also a stupid one when what you recognize as your core business is starting to circle the drain. When you lament that you don’t know how to get customers into the stores but don’t given them any incentive to come in, you have a problem.
And that brings us to this latest story about the bookseller. It seems B&N is finally going to start matching prices on its website in its brick and mortar stores. But, since this is B&N, there’s a catch. Several of them, in fact. First, you have to know about it. In other words, if you haven’t seen the message (assuming they sent one out), you won’t know and they won’t have to offer it. Second, you have to ask for it. Third, you have to be a member of their club.
What this says to me is that not only do I have to pay them the $25 or whatever their annual membership is now but I also have to look online before going to the checkout stand to purchase my book. Why? Because I need to know what the online price is since I doubt they are listing that in-store. Then I’m going to have to ask for it, show my membership and pray the worker behind the counter knows what I’m talking about. How is this supposed to help me?
Oh, I know. They say it will save me money. Except I could have saved that money and more by simply shopping from the comfort of my home. I wouldn’t have to fight the crowds, assuming B&N gets crowds during the holiday season now, and the even longer lines as additional codes are punched into the cash register since this apparently isn’t automated (how can it be if you have to ask for the discount before it is given?).
B&N had a nice slow pitch right over the plate and it whiffed. Way to go — not.
I miss the days when Barnes & Noble focused on books and had a knowledgable and caring staff. I miss the days when they didn’t mind if I spent hours browsing and reading, days when they made it not only convenient but comfortable to do so. Now it is as if they are trying to find new and “better” ways to fail.
If they really wanted this promotion — and that is exactly what it is: a promotion. A poorly planned one with a limited time period — to work, they would open it to every customer. They wouldn’t demand the customer be a member of the club. They would advertise the hell out of it TO GET PEOPLE IN THE DOORS. Isn’t that what they need? Don’t they need warm bodies that will actually buy something? Don’t they need to expand their customer base? The answer to that is a resounding “Yes!” and yet they continue to shoot themselves in the foot when trying to accomplish it.
How much longer until B&N is finally put out of its misery? I don’t know and I really don’t want to see it fail. I love brick and mortar bookstores. But, unless its management opens its eyes and climbs out of the early 20th Century, I don’t hold out much hope for its continued existence and that’s too bad, not just for publishing but for the reading public.