B&N & Amazon Take Steps to Reinvent the Bookstore
On Tuesday, Barnes & Noble CEO Ron Boire announced at the eTail West conference that B&N will be launching a long-rumored prototype store this year. Though Boire did not reveal the exact launch date or location of this store, he did say that the goal of the store would be to bridge the digital and physical shopping experience. “I don’t think until you’re fully connected -- mobile, desktop and store -- that you’re going to be providing the full experience. That’s our goal.”
Boire did not elaborate on what bridging digital and physical shopping actually means. He said only that the prototype would be different from the traditional B&N store and that it would launch some time in 2016.
Perhaps to “bridge the digital and physical,” B&N will mimic the experience of Amazon Books, which culls data from its website to stock books on the shelves, sells books within the store at the same price as online, and encourages customers to use the Amazon app or in-store kiosks to look up book prices. Digital activity is meant to drive brick-and-mortar purchases at Amazon Books and visa versa.
It’s interesting to see that the top bookstore chain and leading online retailer are both pursuing a sort of omnichannel strategy. But the phenomenon of merging physical and online shopping experiences is not new. Major retailers like Nike and Macy’s launched such initiatives a few years ago and are reaping the rewards, according to Darrell Rigby, a partner at Bain & Company and author of Winning in Turbulence. In a 2014 article for Harvard Business Review he explained how these retailers are implementing “digical” strategies. A “digical” strategy, he wrote, “satisfies customers’ wish for a seamless digital-physical experience, enables greater efficiency and economies of scale, and permits better coordination [across digital and physical divisions], avoiding duplicated effort.”
Macy’s, for example, mapped out an omnichannel strategy in 2010. The department store revamped hundreds of stores to become fulfillment centers for online purchases, where consumers can buy online and pick up in the store. Macy's 2013 renovation of its Herald Square flagship store included interactive store directories, a mobile app to guide shoppers through the store, and special RFID tagging which tracks individual items and helps the retailer automatically update inventory. As of Rigby’s writing, the omnichannel strategy had already made an impact, growing Macy’s overall sales by $4.4 billion or 19% since 2010.
It’s unclear if Amazon or B&N will be pursuing similar “digical” strategies as Macy’s, though Boire did seem to hint B&N’s prototype would somehow integrate mobile into the experience. And with the recent revamp of BN.com, the bookstore chain may be in a better position to work across its digital and physical divisions as Macy’s is striving to do. Amazon is characteristically staying mum on the goals of Amazon Books, though some have speculated it’s an effort to speed fulfillment of book orders and that it will be opening other types of physical stores soon.
Ultimately, what we know is that both B&N and Amazon are trying to reimagine the bookstore. What exactly those visions entail is unclear. I’m hoping that these experiments lead to greater ease of book discovery, greater personalization in book recommendations, and faster delivery of book purchases. And if B&N and Amazon are truly diligent, they’ll create something I can’t even imagine that makes book buying more enjoyable and easier than its ever been before. Here's hoping.
Ellen Harvey is a freelance writer and editor who covers the latest technologies and strategies reshaping the publishing landscape. She previously served as the Senior Editor at Publishing Executive and Book Business.