How Can Barnes and Noble Save Themselves?

Why Bother Saving Barnes and Noble?

This month we have been discussing how Amazon’s unethical business practices harm the publishing industry and the strong likelihood that Barnes and Noble will close.  I expected that readers would rejoin with arguments that they enjoy the low prices and customer service aspects of Amazon, while they do not always enjoy the experience of shopping in a Barnes and Noble.  Fewer available titles and unpleasant interactions with employees are obvious critiques of the U.S.’s largest brick-and-mortar book retailer.  And, indeed, plenty of comments reflected similar views.

So why save Barnes and Noble if many customers believe the chain does not deserve to be saved, based on how the company has been run?  The short answer is two-fold.  First of all, Barnes and Noble is one of the last physical bookstores around for many people.  Decreased access to books is a problem because it makes equal access to knowledge and learning materials more difficult.  Secondly, if Amazon gains a monopoly on the bookselling business, publishers will have even more difficulty negotiating prices with them.  Amazon already has a history of offering to pay prices so low that publishers would lose money selling to the company.  But, with Barnes and Noble gone, what other choice would they have?  Although publishers do typically sell directly from their websites, few consumers seem to use this option.  And why should they if Amazon is selling books below cost and thus offering a greater deal to readers?

So what can Barnes and Noble do to turn their company around and encourage people to shop there?  Below I offer some ideas.

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What Can Barnes and Noble Do to Improve Their Bookselling Experience?

Reduce the Gift Items

I recognize that gift items sell well and that they are often the reason book stores stay afloat.  (We can even look at Amazon, who sells books at a loss because non-book items help make up the deficit.)  However since the gift section was expanded, shelf room for books has been lost.  Barnes and Noble seems to specialize now in trendy items and bestsellers, meaning people looking for more obscure books often end up online.  I think Barnes and Noble should keep their book- and fandom-related merchandise, but they can downsize the candles, soaps, and random electronics to start.  The company already announced it plans to downsize this section, so that seems promising.

Expand the Children’s Section

People love buying books for children, whether this is teachers buying for their classroom, parents buying for school projects, or relatives hoping to send an educational present.  If the store makes room for more books, I think the children’s section makes the most sense for expansion.  I would also like to see some reorganization for a more pleasant browsing experience.  The current organization never makes complete sense to me and I feel like I walk around a lot trying to get an idea of what each section is meant to be.  It’s sort of by age, sort of by genre/type of book, and sort of by hardcover/softcover?  Presumably the layout makes things easy for employees to locate itemse, but the layout should really be focused on how easy it is for customers to browse.

Increase Programming

More programs could get more people in the door to make impulse purchases.  Barnes and Noble’s new book club is a step in the right direction as it encourages people to both buy a book from the store and to show up again to maybe buy some more books.  I would like to see more programs like this, especially for children, where the program is tied directly back into merchandise the attendees will find relevant and helpful.  I’m thinking writing workshops where writing books are highlighted, children’s storytimes with thematic books on a special display, etc.  But the key is to impress customers with the idea that the books being suggested for them are ones that they will actually find useful and not just books that are being pushed on them.

Change Locations

Edward Helmore for The Guardian notes that Barnes and Noble stores tend to be located in malls.  This means consumers have to make a conscious effort to get in their cars and drive there.  Moving locations to areas where stores would get spontaneous foot traffic could help the company increase revenue.

Hire Knowledgeable, Friendly Employees

Like plenty of other commenters I have seen, my experiences with the staff at Barnes and Noble have often been unpleasant.  Barnes and Noble may have to rethink their hiring practices or their training practices.  But their recent layoffs, many of full-time employees, do not bode well for the company.  Part-time employees often have less of an incentive to invest in their job if there are no full-time positions they can aim for.  And part-time employees who leave for full-time jobs at other companies means Barnes and Noble will have to spend more time hiring and retraining employees.  Fewer stable employees means fewer experienced employees.  Plus the recent layoffs mean that the employees left will likely be struggling to do the same amount of work with fewer people–at least in the short term.  Stressed employees are unlikely to give customers a shopping experience they will enjoy.

Go Local

Indie bookstores are treasures because they typically stock local-interest books and local authors.  Chain stores, meanwhile, tend to give the same planograms to all their stores, regardless of what their customers actually want or buy.  Barnes and Noble could sell more if they stocked their stores with regional differences in mind.

Serve Alcohol?

In 2016, Barnes and Noble announced that some locations would serve alcohol.  While my own anecdotal observations lead me to believe that serving alcohol does attract more people to a place or an event, I have to question whether the alcohol drinkers intend to buy books when they leave. Probably not, so I’m going to have to give this idea a pass, creative as it is.

Discourage People from Using the Store as a Library

This idea will probably be controversial.  And I have no idea how to implement it without making customers feel unwelcome.  However, isn’t it odd that people go to Barnes and Noble to read an entire book or magazine while they sip on their coffee–and then they do not buy it?  People typically don’t go to other stores and use their products for hours without purchasing them.  Would you go to the home goods store, use their tools on your DIY project, and leave without paying?  Would you go to an ice cream shop, eat a sundae, proclaim it mediocre, and then announce you don’t want to pay after having consumed it?  Probably not, so why do people do this with books?  Do we not value them enough to pay for our consumption of them?  I think Barnes and Noble needs to remind people that they sell things and that they are not a library.

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34 thoughts on “How Can Barnes and Noble Save Themselves?

    • Krysta says:

      Yeah, sadly, I have been blogging for seven years and I have seen this conversation come up periodically. However, most bloggers in the past said they need the low prices on Amazon. I don’t fully understand because Barnes and Noble has cheaper prices online and a much cheaper yearly membership.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Elspeth says:

    I gave it a lot of thought, then went ahead and bought a Barnes and Nobles membership this past week. I was already getting their educators’ discount (we homeschool), but I’d balked at the $25 until now.

    At the end of the day though, as you have no noted here, it’s going to be up to Barnes and Noble to make the appropriate adjustments to bring back the customers they’ve lost.

    I have been convinced of the value of actual physical bookstores, so I’ll do my small part. There’s a great used bookstore in our area, however, that will still get my first look when I really want to browse. It’s everything book lovers love about bookstores.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Krysta says:

      I find the membership fee offputting since almost no one charges for store memberships. But people pay $119 for Amazon so I guess $25 looks like a bargain in comparison? I do have to admit the membership would likely pay for itself just in free shipping, though. I like to send books as gifts.

      Physical bookstores are the best! I love running into hidden gems, being able to flip through the book before I buy, and, really, just be surrounded by books! It feels so magical!

      Like

  2. amandalynn9204 says:

    All retailers really need to figure out how to save themselves from Amazon! Personally I love just going to browse around at book stores, take my time and read the first couple of pages of books I find so I really hope they can keep up!

    Like

  3. Grab the Lapels says:

    I used to go to Border’s all the time to get coffee and study. At the time, I couldn’t afford books, so I didn’t even go near them. However, that place would be PACKED (in the cafe, anyway) with people drinking coffee and reading magazines. In fact, the magazines were right next to the cafe. Then, the baristas would have to go around, pick up magazines, and put them back. I wondered at why they made it so easy for people to not buy, and my husband pointed out that unpurchased materials can be sent back to the publisher. Like, okay, but no sale was made, either!

    Like

    • Krysta says:

      I think the store hopes people coming into do that will make an impulse purchase. But usually they just seem to upset people who then buy a “new” text that is already bent or has a coffee stain!I

      If coffee drinkers don’t buy the magazine’s and books, I don’t see how alcohol will make people buy the merchandise.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Rewarded with Words says:

    I really like the programs idea. They should also have book signings instead of having authors come in and sign books and leave without meeting fans. Book signings bring in more customers, who will likely shop, which will help their business.

    Like

    • Krysta says:

      Yeah! People love meeting authors! I went to an author speech once and it was so good I almost purchased her book after! But then she read part and I hated it so I did not. But she almost had me there! And I didn’ attend planning to purchase anything. This author shall remain nameless. 😜

      Liked by 1 person

    • Briana | Pages Unbound says:

      Yeah, I’ve been to a couple author signings, and a couple times I’ve bought the books and a couple times I didn’t, after hearing them read part of the book. But it’s a good idea in general for authors to get some marketing and for bookstores to get people in the door. I know publishers are cutting down on author tours because they’re expensive and (for the publisher) don’t always pay off,” but I think B&N could look into inviting local authors on their own.

      Like

      • Krysta says:

        Definitely! I have seen people go into the library after a local author went to their school. They wanted to check out some of their books! Author visits can make a difference!

        Like

  5. Fawn & Fern Books says:

    After reading this and your other post about Amazon’s business practices with publishers, I’ve considered ending my Amazon subscription and buying strictly from B&N. I had no idea what went on between Amazon and publishers so this was very eye opening. Just know that you have definitely helped me learn more about this and pretty much convinced me to boycott! Great posts 🙂

    Like

  6. (Danielle) Books, Vertigo and Tea says:

    Ah my experience with BN seems to be a bit different here in Oregon 😊 as most of what is mentioned or hinted at as something that needs to be remedied is already in place thankfully. I adore them! Our BNs are in malls typically, but still tend to occupy at least two stories and carry all that I could imagine. The staff is over the top knowledgeable and helpful. I was just chatting with another blogger how every trip in is like an event. I find myself walking the store with their employees talking everything from books to criterion films and love that. So it is hard to remember that there is a risk looming over this retailer. I get caught up in the numerous events and what appears “immediate” success. I think I have been a member for 3 or more years (since I learned of it). Although, from my experiences the online prices offered between Amazon and BN are very comparable in reality so I am curious as to how that is working out behind the scenes. But I will forever support physical bookstores and BN. Love them! Great post!

    Like

    • Krysta says:

      All I can say is wow! I have never been to a Barnes and Noble like the ones you describe! But that’s excellent! If some stores are implementing such policies, they can serve as models for other stores!

      I think that the difference between Amazon and B&N may be how much loss they’re each willing to take. In theory, they could offer similar prices, but Amazon may have bought the book say at 40% of the cover price and B&N maybe at 45% of the cover price. (I’m just making up numbers.) So Amazon is taking less of a hit because they’ve told publishers they won’t buy except at overly low prices. That’s all theoretical, though. I’ve never seen a news story on B&N’s relationship with publishers so I don’t know what deals they make. However, I do get the general sense that publishers desperately want B&N to stay open, so that says something to me.

      Like

      • (Danielle) Books, Vertigo and Tea says:

        I would love to see those numbers if you ever come across them. I certainly pay much in BN than other stores, but really do not mind as I love the idea of supporting them. I rely on my membership and coupons to offset the difference and usually come out even 💗 We do have to BNs here that are fantastic!

        Liked by 1 person

  7. Milliebot says:

    These are great ideas! I certainly enjoy Amazon’s book prices, but their customer service and shipping sucks. We pay for prime and half the time I don’t even get orders on time. Our b&n is nice, we try to go there when we can but it does feel expensive. I don’t really talk to the staff so Idk how they are. But I love to browse in person, even if I don’t buy anything. I do wish half the damn store wasn’t games and toys and bullshit. As a result I find they usually have like, the latest release in a series but not book 1. So if you’ve just heard of it what’s the point? I’ll end up buying book 1 on Amazon. I really hope they can save themselves.

    Like

    • Krysta says:

      Well, that’s disappointing! For what Prime costs, I would think that the customer service would be top-notch! I suppose some of that could be from third party sellers? Since you don’t really know who’s shipping now when you press the main “buy” button?

      Yeah, B&N can feel expensive. I rely on my holiday gift cards a lot. 🙂 I also mostly buy books for gifts for other people. So basically I might buy one book for them instead of two if I buy in-store. But I don’t think anyone minds.

      And I agree. I do like some of the merchandise. It’s fun to look at, anyway. I’m actually not going to buy a $100 collectible figurine…. But there’s just too much of it. I think they can shrink the gift merchandise easily and just keep the stuff that sells the most. The rest can stay available online.

      Like

      • Milliebot says:

        A lot of my books arrived damaged because they send them in a box that’s too large with zero packaging and it’s always a fight to get a credit or have them send me a new copy. Blah.

        I do like the member program at B&N. I wish they did sales more often (as opposed to just the clearance books). Maybe I’ll look more into the order online and pickup in store.

        Agreed – totally not buying a crazy expensive anime figure or regular kids toys that I can easily find at target or something. I hope they downsize the extra merch in the future.

        Like

        • Krysta says:

          That’s ridiculous! I have received many small items in overly large boxes from retailers, but they have generally been packed well, at least!

          That’s one of my main problems with B&N. They really don’t have sales. They have coupons sometimes, but often 20% off cookbooks, mysteries, and chapter books. I want none of those things. Or they have buy two get one free on something and when you look there are only ten options available for the discount. It doesn’t feel like a deal because I don’t want any of them. It feels like they are desperate to move some overstock.

          Like

  8. Jonathan Scott Griffin says:

    To be perfectly frank, I was more sad to see Borders go than Barnes and Noble. I felt that Borders had everything that Barnes and Noble did and then some. For instance, you mentioned expanding Barnes and Noble’s children’s section. Well, I would say expand their art and photography section. Wherever I went, it was my experience that Borders had a wonderful art and photography section. Barns and Noble always barely had an art and photography section. It really sucked, because I love to look through art and photography books, and as a client who buys such books, that’s important to me.

    Also, I am not too worried if Barnes and Noble is no more, and here’s why. Independent bookstores! Indie bookstores are hanging on a lot better than big chain bookstores. They serve a niche in the community that a chain store can’t do. I’m not saying that all Indie stores will survive. But if they make the store enjoyable they can hold on. I’ve seen it. There is an Indie bookstore where I live that is doing well. I go into it almost all the time. I feel Indie bookstores are the future.

    Like

    • Krysta says:

      My memory of Borders is that it had a much more expansive selection of books in general. I like to buy classics and Borders usually had two or three versions to choose from while Barnes and Noble mainly sells its own versions. Which have pretty sturdy binding so I do like them for that, but sometimes I’m looking for a specific translation or publisher and then I’d probably have to go online. :/

      I’ve watched various indie stores in my area close over the years, so if Barnes and Noble closes I’d probably have to shop online. 😦 I know people say indies are making a comeback, but that hasn’t been true where I live at least.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. saraletourneau says:

    I was a bit surprised to see the children’s section suggestion. The closest B&N to me has a HUGE kid’s section. But I’m checking their event schedule online, and… Wow. They have a couple events on tap for June, and that’s it, unless they have others they’re currently working on. The indie bookseller in the same area has many more events than B&N does. And I’d agree that increasing their programming would definitely help business.

    The last suggestion you mentioned…. That’s really a thing?! People come in to B&N to read books but not buy them afterward, even though they’ve actually used that book?? I’d never do that!

    Like

    • Krysta says:

      I suppose it might depend on the specific store? I always feel like the children’s sections I go in could have more! 😀

      I don’t even know what events my B&N has, to be honest. I get the impression they mostly do author visits for authors I haven’t heard of, which usually means I’m not that invested in going. Actually, my local indie had a greater chance of getting authors whose names I recognized….

      Yeah, people even go to B&N for playdates. They let their kids play with the merchandise while the moms drink coffee. I want to tell them that’s what the library is for, but I guess they can’t drink coffee in the library.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Adam says:

    I definitely think Barnes & Noble should focus on interactive programs/meetups, and staff capable of facilitating conversation. Pick a popular/recently relevant book/series, find an employee who’s passionate and knowledgeable about it, and organize a group discussion. Many people want to discuss but don’t know where to begin. I feel like a solid portion of YouTube users are essentially professional media commentators.
    If they can create unique activities that can’t be found elsewhere, activities that reward/build upon reading a story, they can create more incentives.

    And the store could establish specific employees who are experts in a given genre. It’s easy to find stories by author or series, but what if a reader walks in looking for a story that “prominently features assassins” or “feels like A Song of Ice & Fire, but more light-hearted”.

    Like

    • Krysta says:

      Yeah, I don’t why that is, but this seems to be a common experience. You would think it would vary more by store, and yet I have only seen one person so far who said their local B&N employees are nice. :S

      Liked by 1 person

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