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Reverse showrooming

This past weekend a friend asked me to pick up a couple of books for them. Print books, btw, and they needed them later that day. That meant it was time to head to a local bookstore, something I'm doing less and less of these days.

B&N was the closest and when I walked in I immediately realized why online shopping sometimes offers such a better experience than in-person. My local B&N moved all their categories around from the last time I was there and I must have circled the entire store three or four times just to find the two books I needed.

Then there's the reviews and top-seller lists I'm so used to seeing online. They don't exist in the brick-and-mortar world, so I decided it was time to do some reverse showrooming.

I chose the Amazon app on my Android phone, mostly because I know Amazon tends to have far more customer reviews than B&N. So I found myself flipping through the Amazon app while standing in the middle of a B&N store. I kept waiting for a store employee to walk past and make me feel guilty, thinking I was just buying the books from Amazon instead, but that never happened.

The whole experience made me realize, once again, that a chain like B&N needs to build a mobile app to make the in-store experience more pleasant and, dare I say it, rewarding.

The only mobile app B&N has is for the Nook. They offer nothing to help you navigate your local superstore. How about simple store maps so I can find the sections I'm looking for without walking all over the place? Yes, I know this has to be done store-by-store and updated regularly. And yes, I'm sure they like it that we're all walking through the store since maybe that means we'll stumble across something we weren't even looking for. I wasn't interested in serendipity on this visit though. I was on a mission and pressed for time.

Once they create this in-store app, how about adding some other features like deals-of-the-day? Base them on my purchasing habits. Make me a deal I can't resist and customize it for me. Feel free to mix the offers between print deals and ebook deals. Let me know about upcoming events and anything else I might be interested in, especially if it ties in with my buying habits.

All I'm asking is that they give me a reason to come back. Without any of this it will probably be a few months before I return. And when I do, the experience is likely to be as frustrating as this last visit. If Mr. Riggio is serious about buying the brick-and-mortar part of the business you'd think he'd want to implement something like this to improve the shopping experience.


Karthikeyan Mohan

The Book store chains can easily build an in-store navigation app using Aisle411.

Rich Adin

Joe, I agree. My wife and I used to shop at our local B&N several times a month and walk out with an armload of hardcovers each time. I can't remember the last time we were in the local B&N.

B&N's problems -- both with the b&m stores and the Nook -- are traceable, I think, directly to Riggio and his two top lieutenants. None of them have any vision. The problems are not just the rearranging of the stores (something that many retailers do becaue they have been told it forces shoppers to look at other items) but the inadequate use of the stores combined with B&N online.

One example is the Nook. Why aren't the local stores trained to give real technical and customer support for the Nook. That personal relationship is what Apple exploits with its stores and is something that Amazon cannot match -- yet for "support" you have to call B&N or go online, where the support is atrocious.

Another example is how Amazon caters to its most valuable customers and B&N ignores them. For example, when Nooks first came out, i was debating whether to buy 2 Nooks or 2 Sony 505s. Any bookstore would have considered me a valuable customer because I spent thousands of dollars every year on hardcovers. But not B&N, which had access to my buying records as I bought most of my books at the local store. B&N refused to give even a meagre 10% discount. I was infuriated by the poor treatment after having shored up B&N's bottom line for so long and bought the Sonys. B&N lost in multiple ways -- I bought Sony devices and began shopping at Sony's ebooks store.

For B&N to exist in 10 years, Riggio and Lynch need to retire so someone with some vision can be brought aboard.


B&N needs to add a bar code scanner to every aisle so that you can scan a book and read the online reviews (similar to the way you can scan items in a store to check its price) on a large screen, ideally touch-enabled.

Personally, I have always hoped for the day when the actual bookshelf in a physical store is more intelligent and self-aware of what books are sitting on it so that beneath the physical book a small screen would show the numbers of stars, reviews etc. to truly blend the benefits of online reviews with the convenience of being in-store.


I do the same thing and not just with books. Amazon is a great resource. And I will buy locally if the difference is less than 15%.

Robin Tidwell

Perhaps you should try an indie store. Customer service is usually better, no superstore issues to contend with, and in our store, at least, we'll check around to find what you want.

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