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Borders Moving Further Away from the Long Tail

BordersBorders CEO George Jones continues to tinker with the bookseller's approach and in-store experience.  The new concept store design previewed last month and now Borders is announcing plans to feature more titles face-out on the shelves, resulting in fewer titles in each store.

I like the fact that it should help increase sell-through of many of those face-out titles but I hope they don't cut back too far on the rest of their inventory.  This strategy focuses on selling more products to people already in the store but doesn't really offer any incentive to drive more traffic to the store.  It's always a good idea to try and sell more to your existing customers, but what's being done to draw in new ones?  The kiosks and other media center elements of the concept store design might help, but will that be enough?  B&N will no doubt start touting the breadth and depth advantage they'll have over Borders.  Once this change at Borders is complete, customers are likely to equate B&N with "more titles" and Borders with "attractive shelves."  If those are the two distinguishing factors I know which one I'd lean towards for destination purchases.

The worst thing that could happen in all this is for more Borders customers to start leaving empty-handed because the title they're looking for isn't in stock.  So rather than focus exclusively on the shelves customers see, I think it's important for Borders to also consider their back-office area.  How effectively are those in-store receiving and storage areas managed?  Are there opportunities to maintain an inventory of some of the second- and third-tier books they're looking to drop?

Perhaps it's time to look at all the available real estate in the store and come up with some innovative ways to maintain broad selection while still moving to this face-out model.  After all, it's better for a customer to discover a book is in the store (but not on the shelf) via a kiosk or clerk than to walk away without making a purchase, right?


Jeff Nordstedt

Funny thing about this is that I once had lunch with former Borders head, Greg Josefowicz, and he was touting Borders' strength as being the larger title base they maintained when compared with BN.

Ironically, coming from the grocery industry, he took a lot of jabs from the publishing industry for "selling books like they are cereal boxes." Of course, now he is gone and they really are selling books more like cereal boxes.

I agree with you that the ideal would be able to fuse more faced out books with a wider title base. I imagine it is tough to develop a model for a physical store that can compete with what Amazon can offer.

James Mitchell

Many people already leave a bookstore empty handed: I estimate about half.

I've sat in the cafe at a Barnes and Noble and counted the number of people that entered the store and the number of people that buy books. In a one hour period, I observed around 80 entrants, 40 purchases, and 3 possible shop-lifting incidents. I think only about 50% of people that enter a bookstore make a purchase.

If Border's new merchandising can improve that ratio, and reduce inventory costs, it could be good business.

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