5 Ways Barnes & Noble Can Stay Alive


Becoming a more disciplined and consistent reader over the last two years, I have been going to Barnes & Noble a lot. In the last month I have been there every week. I will probably stop by B&N this weekend as well, looking for a book on how to setup a corporation. I don’t go there because I love the store or the experience, instead, I go there out of necessity. Where I live, there are no other physical book stores that carry the majority of books I would like to buy and read. If a local competitor offered the same books with a better experience, I would immediately make the switch. In my area, the only serious competitor is a discount book store that has its own major challenges, but I digress.

This past weekend I was in a B&N store waiting for my wife. I started to look around and reflect on what things I would change. I am not a retail expert, nor have I ever owned a book store, so my ideas could be complete crap. I have no doubt that millions of dollars and man hours have been put into their operational model. Regardless, I would like to offer my ideas for ways B&N could transform their business to stay alive.

Idea#1: Stop asking me to sign up for your membership program.

I understand it will save me money. I have been told the math multiple times from your cashiers. Doesn’t matter. I don’t want it. Not because it costs too much. I am just tired of each store having their own membership program and having my personal information sitting there waiting for the next breach to happen. Is there a way that you can market the program to people uninformed, but stop asking people not interested (like me)?

Idea#2: Stop asking for my email OR start asking in a sincere manor.

Right now when I am checking out, the cashier will say “your email address?”, not “Would you like to sign up to our email newletter?”. So what happens…most people give you their email address. I see it every time there is someone in front of me. It’s not B&N’s fault that people submit their information mindlessly, and of course other retailers do it too, but the way it’s being executed right now is manipulative.

Idea#3:  Turn all of your books so that the cover is showing.

I understand the multiple reasons why this is not being done today, but still. I am sure that your sales would continue to thrive if all of the books were facing the customers, and I feel sales would improve. I am sick of the having to turn my head and read the spine of 90% of the books. I am sure you have missed out on numerous sales from me because I couldn’t see the book I wanted, even though I was standing right next to it. Also, I understand that you would be forced to reduce your selections. I think this is a good thing, as long as you make better book choices, especially for the sections outside of fiction, where there are less books.

Idea#4: Get rid of the Nook device and service, start selling various tablets, and partner with Kindle (Amazon).

I understand that since you and Amazon are competitors that this cannot happen for multiple reasons. Let’s fantasize and say it could happen. It would be amazing for your customers, and looking at recent sales results, it would be amazing for you too. Would you rather have 50% of something or 100% of nothing? I would love to walk into your store, see a book on the shelve (seeing the cover, not the side) and also see the Kindle price right underneath it. Even better, I would love to see the digital and physical bundle price. I think there are many people, including myself, who would love to buy both the digital and the physical copies at the same time, especially with a slight discount. Since online prices are pretty fluid, the price signs would have to be digital, but other retailers are already doing that.

Idea#5: Put your coffee shop and sitting area in the middle of the store and expand it.

Going into an age where ebooks and online shipping becomes more of the norm, you are going to have to start making your business more about the experience and less about the books. I think books are a lot safer than music and movies, but you are still going to have to be more resilient to the digitization of your industry. Create an environment that people want to visit and spend more time reading, connecting with others, and shopping.

Bonus idea: Get rid of your movie and music section.

Reclaim the space for books. Do it now.

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