Portents of Doom at Local Barnes & Noble Store

I visited B&N the other day -- tellingly not to buy anything but as a way to kill time while my daughter was shopping.    What I saw gave me a serious case of deja vu -- where the book store used to be all, you know, books, there were now large sections dedicated to toys and games and collectibles and other such stuff.

This totally reminded me of the last days at CompUSA, when floor space originally all dedicated to computers and software was being used for DVD players and appliances and all kinds of odd stuff.  I see the same thing now at Best Buy, with workout equipment and other oddball products.  I told my son on a visit a year ago to Best Buy to expect to see the a larger appliance selection next time we visit.  He asked why, and I said "because Wal-Mart does not generally sell them, and not a lot of people buy their large appliances at Amazon."  Sure enough, you see more appliances nowadays.

I don't think that converting your over-sized book store into an under-sized department store is going to work.  It is hard to shift a retail chain's positioning, though it is possible (anyone remember when the Gap was just a Levis store?)  But things like leases and locations are really sticky, making it hard to change fast if your new concept needs more or less space or different locations.


  1. mesaeconoguy:

    Amazon is killing them.

  2. Solomon Foster:

    I've got to say it's been pretty nice to have a section with interesting games at B&N. It's as good a game selection as available anywhere around these parts -- we've picked up a couple of things there.

    I knew Borders was doomed when I went into one of the Ann Arbor stores, and they had taken several big sections of bookshelf -- each four feet worth from floor all the way up -- and replaced the former diverse selection of books they would have had there with just a couple of books repeated ad nauseum front facing plus a big, colorful poster. The one I remember was entirely devoted to Harry Potter, several years after the last book had been published. It felt like they were desperately trying to hide the fact their in-store selection was drastically reduced.

  3. marque2:

    Everyone is killing them. Prices, not good, service, not good, selection not good, return policy not good. I do buy boxes online (eg a DVD player) but there are definite things I like to buy locally, and I wouldn't mind buying a DVD player locally too if the price were decent (not even internet low) So where do I go when I want to buy a TV, and get advice on TV's without getting hassled about the extended warantee. Costco! They have a decent selection, and always have someone in the electronic department to answer questions. Their prices aren't the lowest, but if something goes wrong I can easily return it, and I know they put pressure on suppliers to supply decent quality goods so when I am ready to dish out another 2 grand on a TV, that is probably where I will go.

    Amazon definitely has one other disadvantage. It takes a few days to get the goods and you can not see them. I think local stores can capitalize on this. Last time I went to Best Buy - about a month ago, it was because someone gave me a certificate - I have had enough bad buying experiences over the years where, I just don't drop in any more. Anyway, it is a sad shell of its former self, and they had the place all dim like a restaurant, and the shelves weren't quite stocked, and were far apart, so it looked like there wasn't much merchandise. It was depressing being in the store. I felt like death was near.

  4. mesaeconoguy:

    We have an amazon dist center in west Phoenix. I usually get what I order in 1 - 2 days, without expedited shipping. Huge convenience.

    I haven't been to Best Buy in years, and occasionally go to Costco for specialty/sale items, but AMZN remains the king in our house.

    The Kindle Fire we got for xmas is insanely good, for 1/4 the price of an iPad.

  5. LarryGross:

    I bought my last laptop at Best Buy primarily because it was important that I see the keyboard and try it and it turned out they were pretty close in price to Amazon..they had it in stock so I went with it.

    that's the big problem with some things. I do not buy books anymore...if the library don't have it or can't get it electronically, or on Amazon.. I don't need it. Appliances are a different story as are things like flooring, carpet, etc... but WalMart and BestBuy are getting into delivery to their store. You order online then go pick it up and it's fairly quick. I'm not sure they are done yet.

  6. Don:

    In San Antonio, there's one really large B&N and several smaller ones. The large one has had this stuff for about 18 months, the smaller ones are carrying it now (and the large one is carrying more of it). I started downloading all my wife's B&N electronic books to my PC and decrypting them to make sure I had them if they take a dive.

    What will it say when B&N starts carrying refrigerators? ;^)

  7. Berourke:

    Best buy hasn't had much in the way of computers for years, which seems weird as they have the geek squad. I have tried to buy computers there and the selection always seemed to be limited to low end, 10 years ago they had top of the line selection at decent pricing. They cut the computers way back and went into CDs and DVDs- downloading killed that, but you need a computer to download! So I went to fry's for a laptop and their selection was also low end except for an overpriced Sony vaio that I bought because I had to have one right then. The salesman apologized for the poor selection and said everyone buys their computers online- well yeah, because you don't carry them! Went to buy a flat screen at best buy and nobody could explain what the differences were between same sizes but very different sizes. If the only information you give the customer is the price - guess what- they buy the cheapest!

  8. Daublin:

    I think it could work out for them. Barnes and Noble nowadays is, as you say, no longer a place to buy books. It's more of a place to kill time. They have a great coffee shop, and--as other commenters have pointed out--their selection of games is actually quite good.

    The books section at Barnes and Noble I find sad. I remember a time when shelves of books felt like a doorway into a larger, brighter world. There was information out there, and a row of books is a portal into that world.

    Nowadays it feels sad to me, more like walking through a monastery. It's good as far as it goes, but it no longer seems bright. It seems dim, ossified, slow. A statue garden of frozen arguments that have been rebutted and expanded for years on the Internet.

  9. john cunningham:

    There are a couple of B&N stores left in greater Cincinnati, I see the same pattern here. they still have excellent SF/Fantasy holdings, which I like since seeing one in person helps. the games selection is superior, and it seems fairly busy on Tuesday nights when our SF book club meets there,

  10. bigmaq1980:

    I recall the days before B&N, Borders, etc.. In those days "if you want to read the book, you need to buy it!" was the scowl I heard from the book store employee/manager. These guys had disrupted that model and made reading anything an invitation along with a cup of java. Heck, they even had listening posts before many music stores had them for CDs. My shelves are lined with many books and CDs. They put many mom and pops out of business.

    However even B&N and co are succumbing to digitization. Going online for books, music, information, and for shopping are the new normal. Anything that is not digital, but is not too heavy will be commoditized if it can be, where comparison shopping and self service online is rather easy.

    That also spells the death knell for many retailers and real estate developers (e.g. of malls).

  11. marque2:

    I bought my last laptops at local stores Staples and Fry's respectively. I am sorry that you have to use Best Buy.

  12. marque2:

    I order most of my stuff from Amazon, and occasionally other online retailers. However some things like laptops and TV's I prefer to buy locally.

  13. mesaeconoguy:

    Most of those, unless really high-end (which I buy) are uniform, and Amazon or Newegg has better deals than all other retailers.

    High-end you must go see; the rest is nearly uniform in delivery.

  14. mesaeconoguy:

    O f course Larry uses the least competitive retailer - he is an unabashed government advocate.

  15. marque2:

    Too funny. They must be owned by some leftist who is a heavy Obama supporter.

  16. LarryGross:

    actually one of the very few times that I bought from BestBuy. The majority of my purchases come from Amazon, Walmart and Ebay.

  17. Tangurena:

    The problem that Borders had was that they used to be a bookstore. Then they got a CEO who knew nothing about the business and turned Borders into a coffee, gift & card store that sometimes sold books. At least B&N owns their own website (Amazon ran Borders') and B&N has the Nook for e-reading.

    It is my understanding that the book business is really down since 2008. From chatting with the folks at my local indie bookstore (Tattered Covers), they've lost so much sales that they took down a number of shelves (about 15%) because the business didn't support having that much tied up in inventory (and empty shelves look bad to customers). To try to keep the business going, they've added used books to their stock, which traditionally was a totally different business model. My local computer book store (Soft Pro) shrank their retail space by 50% in the past few years as well.

  18. LarryGross:

    there are two kinds of book buyers. Those who know the title of what they want and don't care how they get it as long as it's right priced and comes fairly quick. Then there are those who actually want to handle the book, look at the notes on the front/back cover.. flip through it.. and they are the ones that frequent the book stores.

    I do not know what the split is but I suspect it's on the order of 70-30 or so and that 30 is the only reason bricks and mortar stores are still around - IMHO of course.

  19. markm:

    I have yet to see a place offer an on-line equivalent to browsing the shelves of a good bookstore. OTOH, it's been a long time since B&N was worth browsing.

  20. Doug:

    unless the item is unique or high end, we shop at Amazon. I buy more ebooks from Amazon, with some paper books. But the paper books are almost always through and online retailers. We bought our Samsung LED tv from Tiger Direct. It was here in 24 hours. I rarely go into a Best Buy or B&N.

  21. epobirs:

    Large appliances and exercise equipment have been at Best Buy for a very long time. I bought both a refrigerator and a treadmill from Best Buy stores in the late 90s. Still have the fridge and the treadmill wore out and was replaced with a behemoth intended for gyms my sister thought was a good idea.

    So both of those items were present at Best Buy when it was seeing major growth. They had only been in the CA market perhaps three years when I made those purchases but they're seemingly everywhere today.

  22. epobirs:

    What amazed me about my local B&N a while back was that they had a nice sales counter for the Nook but not a single book on the subject of creating EPUB files, the format used by the Nook. Oddly enough, you can get such books for the Kindle from Amazon.

    This is like a computer store in the early 80s not having any books on beginning programming. Not only should B&N carry books on how to make e-books for sale on the B&N site, at least one of those books should be displayed at the Nook counter. Growing the ecosystem is not something you can leave to others. If I were running B&N I'd also kick in a serious sum to the guy running the Sigil project so he could afford to make it a full time job and hire some help. There is nothing remotely like Sigil for working with Kindle files and this advantage should be actively encouraged.