"I'm so done with Barnes & Noble, they had the audacity to insult a bookworm!"
I mumbled this as I typed a vicious review on Yelp. Why would anyone Yelp a chain like Barnes & Noble, no idea, but it made me feel in-control, it made me feel better.
I'm an avid reader. My reading game is serious, check my Goodreads account -- and it doesn't even include all the books I've read. My palette is diverse, though I have a propensity for science fiction, I read everything from YA series to historical biographies (this recent one on Catherine the Great is life-giving). I read/listen to at least one book a month, with my all time max being 7 books during a 4-week period. I buy books, actually I horde books. I romanticize bookstores, prior to meeting BAE, I always fantasized about meeting a hot slightly eccentric but very sweet guy at a bookstore and having a love affair of literary proportions. I actually follow hot dudes reading on Instagram. The long and short of it is, I'm a true bibliophile.
I harbor a certain romanticism about bookstores in general. My favorite thing to do when I travel is to visit a local bookstore, mostly the small business owner kind where you might find used editions and unique caffeinated drinks for sale (the stuff romance novels are made of).
So why do I hate Barnes & Noble? How did they insult me? Why do I predict their imminent (and continued) failure unless they make some changes?
Travel back in time with me to a few weeks ago...
I decided I may want to apply to business school, and that requires studying and a bit of focused essay writing. I live in this tiny Southern California home, made smaller by the presence of the pre-school aged children my husband and I spawned in love. One day, I rolled out of my car relieved to find B&N stayed open until 11 PM since everything else in Orange County closes at like 6 PM on Sunday. I went through and picked out a dozen (random and interesting) books to thumb through when I needed a break from studying and writing, excited to find a book and purchase it the traditional way. I was struck with disgust and sadness to find that there was not one outlet available for customer use in the entire store, even the Starbucks café, where you have to buy something in order to sit, was an outlet wilderness. The petite and passive aggressive manager stated it was corporate policy and that he never heard of any place still having intentional outlets for customer use, that in fact most places are getting rid of this option. After feeding me a slew of lies, hopefully driven by limited life experiences, dude avoided the customer service desk for a little less than a half hour, until I left. I was feeling petty, so I loitered for a bit to see how long he would pretend to be busy. I decided not to buy one book, but took a picture of every cover to look up for possible purchase on Amazon later.
I left B&N and vowed never to return.
A week later after staying at Panera until they closed, and afraid that the second I walked through the door at home I would loose all of my creative juju to the long list of random life tasks I was certain my husband ignored, I went to B&N at 9 PM. My computer was fully charged and I had resigned myself to, and accepted a crappy corporate policy. I was energized by the presence of books filled with other people’s focus and creativity. But was again disappointed by the lack of seats. It seems, this B&N was one of the few places open late. So of course it is a place where high school students would loiter to complete projects while sipping iced coffee creations (ugh YOUTHS). To add insult to injury, there were only 4 chairs (I counted) that were not located in the café and were all occupied by book browsers. I saw a large number of patrons seated on the floor (about 6 in random locations), so I found a seat on the floor and started to type and read. Shortly there after, a B&N employee came by to me and others seated near me and stated we could not sit on the floor per store policy.
I can’t win with these people.
Even their online store sucks. I lead the book and film club at work and one month I opted to buy the books the club needed from B&N instead of Amazon, I even joined their membership club. At checkout, the B&N.com system neglected to mention they did not have all of the book I needed immediately available. My first package had 3 books and after calling, I found out the rest would be delivered more than 2 weeks later. I had to cancel the order and purchase from Amazon. It is a simple code to write and implement that would clearly notify the buyer prior at check out the processing time. But that would be a customer-centric decision, and B&N does not seem to believe in that.
Barnes & Nobles stock price is on the struggle bus for a number of reasons. But think at the heart of this is how they run their stores. Their value proposition is weak. Their customer service is a gothic novel haunted by the spirit of mean as hell Heathcliff and crazy as hell Catherine.
I love Amazon, I’ve been a prime member for YEARS. I order physical/digital/electronic books from them as well toys, gifts, and makeup. Now with Prime Now 2-hour service, I might but milk and random groceries. But nothing, in my opinion can replace a good brick and mortar bookstore.
My Dream Bookstore would:
- be open late.
- have a unique café like Bricks and Scones.( Instead of the fake Starbucks that does not take my membership points of provide rewards)
- not only have plenty of seating but also have lush boho chic or leather couches wrought with character.
- have outlets or charging stations.
- have real atmosphere and local character.
- have the highest speed Wi-Fi.
- have real planned social events like meet-ups for specific books or genres.
I’m sure there would be tons of loitering and a bit costly to implement (even at a few pilot stores in say Portland, Los Angeles, and Boston), but if Barnes & Noble created an experience that was truly customer driven, maybe they could leverage this into improving the bottom-line and boost that sad stock price trend.
This entire post was written at Barnes & Noble... and the customer experience was still poor.