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More on Improving the Brick and Mortar Bookstore Experience

Earlier this month I posted some thoughts on how to improve the brick and mortar bookstore experience. Many readers weighed in, making for an interesting discussion. I’ve been on the road a lot lately and fell a bit behind in my reading. On a flight back from San Francisco the other night I finally got around to reading the April issue of MIT’s Technology Review. It’s a great magazine and one I’d recommend to anyone interested in technology.

The article that caught my eye was called E-Commerce Gets Smarter. It reminds me of the brick and mortar bookstore post noted above. In that post, I talked about some ideas for in-store kiosks and how they could be used to enhance the customer experience. Here are a few interesting related excerpts from the Technology Review article:

The business jargon for this model of integrating retails sales is “multichanneling” – that is, fusing digital services with in-store, mail order, and telephone sales, and with any other retail channels.

By looking at just a few of a customer’s purchases, a retailer will even be able to predict how much she’ll spend over her lifetime, and adjust the deals and promotions it offers her accordingly.

Last year, another $355 billion in retail sales took place in physical stores after consumers had done their homework online. Overall, says Jupiter, for every $1 consumers spend online, they spend $6 offline as a result of research conducted on the Internet.

Many companies set up online stores in the mid to late 1990s, often building proprietary systems that were not integrated with other parts of their operations. Later, harmonizing operations seemed expensive and difficult. It’s only since the economy has improved that some retail executives have been investing more heavily in integrating their sales channels.

I think it’s time for the brick and mortar bookstores to get with it and really leverage this “multichanneling” concept. They’ve got to embrace an online presence in the stores and offer customers services and conveniences the .com’s can’t. As I also noted in my original post, I think this can be done with minimal investment from the bookstores – there are probably plenty of potential sponsors out there who would jump on the opportunity to fund a new PR and marketing program like this.


john Neidhart

Nice thought and I agree that this is a good idea in theory. But, and it's a big 'un, think of the numbers: 700 B&N's, $1000 for each new computer, maybe around $500 per kiosk - that's over $1M right there, before we even start talking about staff training, system integration issues... the list goes on and on. Would Wiley (or any other publisher) fund this? If so, what kind of deal would have to be struck? I can only imagine...

It's important to remember that, at B&N, what they are doing now is working - share price is up, sales are up, market share is hanging in there, overall.

For the average book customer, B&N offers a great shopping experience that goes well beyond simply filling a pre-existing desire for a particular book. Customers go to bookstores wanting to be seduced to buy, to participate in a social experience that transcends need. Kiosks, at least right now, will do little to improve the average customer's shopping experience.

Joe Wikert

I'm not so sure a publisher would want to swallow the hardware money, that's why I figured someone like Dell or Microsoft might come into play. $1M is chump change in their advertising budgets, and we all know how much both those companies are promoting to consumers. This would represent a completely new channel for them. These are only two examples though -- I'm sure there are other companies who might be interested.


The previous post and this one are all interesting ideas - but there are some little corrections to make.

First, Borders actually does have access to online for customers - they just hide it very very thoroughly, but you CAN get their in store catalog kiosks to hit the web if you can keep a Borders staff member from butting in. (They obviously have no clue at all).

Also in one of the posts someone commented about sales tax being a barrier to immediate fulfillment via online if the book is not in staock with delivery to your home. That is not an issue - sales tax is ALL based on the state of sale and purchaser. In fact B&N and Borders pretty much have to charge everyone sales tax since they are in every state.

My teeny tiny publishing company which does 80% plus of its sales online charges CA residents tax and nobody else.

Anyway, apart from that a very interesting discussion.

Naba Barkakati

Owen, I checked out the Press For Change Publishing web site ( and looked at the sample PDF from the Digital Dish title. A book about food writing from food blogs seems unique. I hope it does well and I hope after it's a success, you'd share your story with us. By the way, where is your site hosted- - I'm looking for a good webhosting site :-) Good luck with your endeavors!


good hosting (Naba) at - they are in Singapore and the US - not much in the way of support but they are VERY cheap and they are reliable

Marjorie Huber

They say change is the only constant thing in the world. And if that change is for good and for the betterment of one's status, then get on with it! Interesting insights Mr. Wikert. I must agree that MIT's Technology Review satisfies technology aficionados. Great post!

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