Back in the day, Barnes & Noble and Border’s were the behemoths of book selling, bullying smaller shops into submission by courting consumers with coffee shops and bargain baskets. But those days are long gone. Border’s has bitten the dust and Barnes & Noble is finding it harder and harder to keep their doors open. Largely a victim of convenience, shoppers began purchasing their books from online retailers (namely, Amazon), and they also suffered from the backlash of many book buyers condemning these big box stores in favor of buying locally from cozy book stores with ties to the community.
Yet, B&N isn’t yet ready to throw in the towel. A quick SWOT analysis shows that, even in the face of stiff competition, the company still has some tricks up it’s sleeve.
The threats facing B&N are mounting and are shared across a variety of retailers.
- Online Shopping: Retailers like Amazon make it cheaper, easier, and faster to pick up a book on a whim without even leaving the house. The selection is wide, and shoppers rarely have to worry about a book being unavailable.
- E-Books: Easily portable and space-saving, e-books eliminate the need to buy a paperback that ends up collecting dust on a book shelf.
- Print Publishing Decline: The demand of tangible, print copies of books, periodicals, and other reading materials is falling out of favor for their digital counterparts.
- Young People: Younger generations simply don’t read the way that those that came before did. They’re turning to videos, online publications, and other digital means of consumption.
- Amazon: Not only is Amazon a considerable online competitor for B&N, but they are also delving into the world of brick and mortar stores, many of which have a focus on books.
- Libraries and book sharing: Following the lead of e-books, libraries started loaning out digital books and launched apps to make them easier to check out. Little Free Libraries have also started popping up in neighborhoods.
Fittingly, many of B&N’s threats are as a result of other sellers exploiting their weaknesses:
- Not Quite Corporate/Not Quite Indie: Okay, so B&N is definitely corporate, but with Amazon overtaking a large marketshare of nearly every consumer good, B&N ekes out a little sympathy due to their dedication to print. B&N doesn’t want Amazon stores popping up on street corners just as much as independent booksellers.
- Smaller Inventory: Though supplemented by a well-stocked online marketplace, physical B&N stores simply can’t afford to stock EVERY BOOK ever written.
- Membership: B&N offers a membership card that offers free shipping and occasional discounts. At $25/yr, it falls short when compared to the benefits that a $99/yr Amazon Prime membership provides to subscribers.
- Nook: In spite of numerous attempts, the B&N version of the Kindle simply can’t compete with other e-readers. Though it supports a number of formats, books purchased on Amazon cannot be used on this device.
Now that we’ve set up B&N to fail, let’s take a look at what they have going for them.
- Personal: For all of the conveniences online shopping provides, there is still something to be said for going to a book store, browsing the shelves, and checking out with an employee who may be able to provide personalized recommendations.
- Loyal customers: Every book store has them.
- Comfort and familiarity: Especially once B&N started putting a Starbucks in their store, it became a place where you could spend an hour and enjoy your new purchase while sipping a cup of coffee.
- Online Store: Though less popular than Amazon, B&N provides a comfortable and easy shopping experience and offers the choice to pick up a book in store if you don’t want to deal with shipping.
- Barnes & Noble College: B&N is swooping into college campuses, where textbooks are a commodity, and provides other brands with the opportunity to market to up-and-coming consumers.
- Social Media: Though some of their outlets are lacking (Facebook), their Instagram is quite popular and generates 2k+ likes per post, which are visually appealing and capitalized on the Pinterest aesthetic. They also maintain a number of different Twitter accounts that focus on specific segments and genres (e.g. SciFi, Teens)
What spurned me to look into B&N as a company was hearing about their new restaurant concept idea. Though only three are currently open, two more are on the docket, and this new concept is hinting at success.
Beyond offering expanded food and drink options to get shoppers in-store (and keep them there), B&N stands to explore more opportunities to keep them relevant:
- Free Membership: At $25/yr, their membership program doesn’t offer many incentives that can’t be found at other retailers. Lowering the cost, or revamping the club, should be considered.
- Book Borrowing: Though I would hesitate to suggest B&N take on the library system, offering e-books to rent on their website would be a way to increase both Nook sales and website visits. Tying in a free rental a month into their membership fee could make joining the club more enticing.
- Bundles: As has shown success with vinyl, providing a digital copy of a book with print editions could have added appeal to certain consumers.
- Events Targeted at Young People: Though often tied with a book release, B&N stores could offer additional late night events that target bibliophiles and their friends. After a glass of one, buying an extra paperback might not seem like a terrible idea.
Barnes & Noble has shown that, as a company, it isn’t afraid to innovate. Should their new restaurant concept be a success, we might see a little bit more of the ol’ B&N. If we’re lucky, we’ll be able to hate them again, just they way we used to.