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Reverse showrooming

Improving the B&N shopping experience with...the Amazon mobile app

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.

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Comments: 12

  1. This is an exciting trend in retail stores – across several industries – and you’re right; it should come to book stores! Tying to behavior/likes and sales patterns will improve shopping. As you say, stores can promote upcoming in-store events – workshops, book signings or author events. The app could also note the frequency with which we’ve returned to the store and, therefore, target offers not only on buying behavior but also on “frequent flying.”

  2. Hell, I’d be happy if their in-store customer-facing point-of-sale system actually had accurate inventory counts. (Or for that matter, some antibacterial wipes nearby… that trackball looks pretty grotty…)

  3. These are great suggestions for all retail bookstores. I bet if Amazon buys B&N you will see this app months later!

  4. My experience is that B&N would prefer that you don’t purchase books from their brick and mortar stores. http://www.rubywhite.com/115a-bookstore-that-does-not-want-to-sell-you-books-2/

    • My experience is that Barnes and Noble doesn’t want you finding out about the books you’re interested in, either. They have NO mechanism to tell people who might be interested in books by their favorite author that “Hey! There’s a new [fill in author name] book out!” I have an online account with them and the ONLY emails I get are the ones for the latest crappy bestseller or whatever the flavor-of-the-week book may be.

      In all brutal honesty, I get better notifications in regard both to books I *would* buy AND books I probably won’t than B&N provides from the so-called “pirates.” The only thing that saves them from annihilation by the Dread Pirate Bezos is that AMZN is equally stupid about this issue.

  5. Perhaps my experience is different, but if I know what books I want and they’re in stock at the local B&N, I place the order online. Within a couple hours I get an email notification that they’re ready for pickup at the customer service counter.

  6. A better rewards membership would be great; give me an incentive to spend more than I usually do.

  7. Reverse showroom is the latest trends these days. They’re encouraging shoppers to whip out their smartphones right in store aisles, but to buy online from them.

  8. We know a business is about selling products and making a profit. That’s a given. But profits are tied directly to a good shopping experience. Thinking human beings are looking for a nice experience when they go into any brick and mortar store. While this discussion is about Barnes & Noble the physical store, a perfect parallel is my experience with B&N Nook tablet. I have had mine about a year and I keep throwing it down in disgust and picking up one of the newer generic android models. They say their tablet complements their stores, but that is far from the truth and again the focus on only on what can B&N push people to buy with little regard for the shopper. So will a store app help? I doubt it, since they have forgotten how to sell nicely and thoughtfully; like they used to do before the world was inundated with gadgets. The key is a gadget may complement a good brick and mortar shopping experience, it will never replace it. B&N needs to remember their roots and why they became a success.

    • Bob, I’ve got to believe B&N looks at their Nook device investment as a failure. The fact that their Nook business was down 26% over the holidays vs. prior year is telling. As I’ve said before, I think they should shift those device resources over to something else. One good example is to focus on making their Nook apps world class. I don’t own a Nook tablet but I use the Nook app on my Nexus 7 tablet. I’d love to see them dramatically improve the reading experience there. They don’t need to make their own devices anymore. Samsung and others have that covered for them. Instead they should just make sure their apps are industry leaders, not followers.

  9. Joe, yes B&N needs a wake up call, but they aren’t engaging customers. I’ve been a B&N member for over ten years. I am their best case—the reverse showroom situation—I shop online at Amazon, then I go to B&N to buy the book.

    Unfortunately, B&N has made it more and more difficult to be their customer. Last year at a large store at Mall of America, I asked to renew my membership a few weeks before expiration while purchasing a book at checkout. The clerk said “No, I can’t do that.” Can’t renew my membership? They handed me a new membership paper form. You want me to fill this out? Are you kidding?

    They weren’t, asked me to move aside, and then I demanded that a manager assist me with my renewal. The manager took my B&N membership card, begrudgingly filled out the application, cut up the old card, gave me a new card, and charged for it. There were no renewal perks and there was no apology for the misunderstanding.

    It’s always been difficult to navigate the B&N system online, as they seem to maintain separate accounts for customer, member, Nook, and gift cards, even if you tie them to the same email account. That leads to all sorts of dead-ends and multiple login sessions—the opposite of the seamless Amazon experience. Just this week I got an email: “Join B&N Membership and Save Everyday.” WTF?

    The clock is ticking on B&N’s existence. Luckily my city has new neighborhood and specialty bookstores popping up, a trend happening in many places. The owners, staff, and volunteers remember customers, and these little bookstores host events. Bookstores and libraries are an important aspect of community and culture. We can save this—bot not at B&N.

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