Last week I found myself driving out of my way (again) to a Borders book store. We have eight Borders book stores in the Twin Cities. The closest one is about a 20 minute drive for me.
On the other hand, we have 17 Barnes & Noble book stores in our metro area. Three of them are less than 10 minutes away.
Yet, when I buy books in person, most of them come from Borders. More times than not I choose to drive out of my way to buy from Borders rather than Barnes & Noble.
And I hate to waste time going out of my way to buy anything. Just ask my wife.
I thought about this and realized that Borders does something much better than Barnes & Noble does.
They cater to me.
Specifically, They enable me to find a book online and then search their store inventory real-time to see if they have it in a store nearby.
I love that!
You see, even though I hate to shop, I am impulsive. When I find a book I like, I want it NOW! I don’t want to wait the 2-3 days it will take for Amazon.com to send it to me.
So, if the book I want is available in the Twin Cities, my need to have it now usually overcomes my distaste for shopping. So, I drive to the nearest Borders that has the book in stock.
If the book is not available then Amazon.com usually gets the sale.
Either way, Barnes & Noble misses out. Because I’m not going to spend time calling or visiting their stores to find out if they have it.
This makes me wonder why Barnes & Noble does not offer a similar feature.
They have a lot more stores (at least in Minnesota). They probably have a lot more inventory available. Don’t you think they’d pick up a lot more retail sales if people knew they could walk in, buy exactly what they wanted and walk out? (I call this "laser-shopping", because your shopping is highly targeted and focused, like a laser.)
My theory is, this is exactly what they DON’T want.
I think they’d much rather have the browsers coming to their stores. They want to maximize the time people spend in their stores so they can (ostensibly) maximize the revenue per shopper.
If this is their strategy, then I think they’re making a mistake.
I think people are becoming less inclined to browse and more likely to engage in laser-shopping. The trends in our economy are toward helping people find what they want, buy what they want and spend time doing what they want.
The old days and old ways of big companies manipulating every aspect of our consumer behaviors are gone (or will be soon). The drum beat these days is to help your customers get what THEY want, not what YOU want them to do.
It’s all about the CUSTOMER.
Google understands this. They’ve built a valuable business around this philosophy.
I think Borders understand this too.
Surely Barnes & Noble knows what Borders is doing. Certainly they have access to similar (or better) technology. I can’t believe their lack of a similar service is due to inability or lack of resources.
So, I have to conclude they have specifically chosen to NOT make an online "live inventory" service available to their customers, as Borders has.
And, if this is the case, I have to wonder about their intent. Why would they not offer this service to make book buying easier for their customers?
The answer I come up with is that they want more browsers in their stores. They’d prefer that people come to their stores on the "chance" that the book they want is available.
If I can see they do not have the book I want in stock, I’ll probably not stop by their store. But, if I don’t know, then I might take the chance that I’ll find it there.
Or, so the logic goes.
The trouble is, most books stores do not have nearly enough inventory to make this even a remote possibility. Unless I’m looking for a current mainstream best-seller, they probably will not have the book I want.
So, they hope I will continue browsing and find something else to buy, as long as I’m in the store.
Instead of offering me better service, which fits my plan, they encourage me to do what they want, which fits their plan.
I want ‘laser-shopping". They want "browser-shoppers".
In other words it’s all about THEM, not me.
Maybe I’m reading too much into this. Or maybe I’m right on target.
Either way I think it’s a good lesson for anyone in business.
The more you help your customers get what they want, the better you are SERVING them. And the better you serve them, the more likely they are to continue doing business with you and tell others to do business with you too.
The world is changing.
Successful organizations need to honestly serve their customers or they will lose them. The Barnes & Noble vs. Borders battle should provide an interesting real-life example of this.