It is said bookstores today are in trouble. The Borders near our house closed last year. A lot of people might point to ebooks, but I really don’t think that is the issue, not entirely, not even the major factor really. Bookstores were in trouble long before ebooks became popular. The problem is selection, cost, and convenience.
The other day, I wanted to get a particular book, but I wanted it quickly, because I wanted to give it as a present for someone, so I wanted to buy it locally. There is a Borders bookstore near where I work and I know I have seen the book there before, so I went down to get it. I couldn’t find it, there were no kiosks or anything in the store to allow me to search the store inventory so I could find out if it was there somewhere and I just wasn’t finding it. I went up to the cashier and asked if they could look it up for me. They redirected me to a service desk at the center of the store. There three people already waiting there and no one was there, but there was no one in line at the register, but for whatever reason, they couldn’t look it up for me.I waited… and waited, and then when I finally got waited on, I asked my question. Sure enough, they didn’t carry it in the store, but they could order it for me and I could pick it up in a few days. I said thanks but no thanks and left.
When I got home I did a quick search of Barnes and Noble, as they are also available locally. They had the book in stock. $23 and free shipping if you spend $25 a more, so I could add a couple dollar item and get free shipping, but as I said, I wanted it quickly. They have a pick up in store option. I checked my local store inventory and they had it in stock. I thought great, I will order it for in store pick up and pick it up during my lunch break. When I went to do that though, it wasn’t like the in store pick up I am used to from stores like Best Buy where you actually buy it and then pick it up at the store. They will put a hold on it for you for a few days, and then you can go to the store and pick it up. The catch is, you pick it up at the in store price not the online price, which in this case was a difference of $12. Really? For the convenience of having to drive to a store, search for the item myself, find out they probably don’t have it, then wait in line to buy it, and then have some club membership pushed on me by the cashier, I only have to pay an extra $12 more than clicking a button and having it hand delivered to my front door. The in store price here is 50% more than the online price and they wonder why so many sales are moving online? Other types of stores will allow you to order it for the online price with in store pick up, stores like Walmart, and Circuit City used to do it too. You would think it would be in a stores best interest to do that just to get them to go to the store. It is a service Amazon cannot offer and customer might see something else they might want to buy while they are there.
Lastly I went to the website of Books a Million. They have a similar price to Barnes and Nobles online price. I can’t find out if they have it in stock locally or not though, nor whether if I go to the local store, it will be the same price as on their website. This means I could take the time to drive all the way to their store and leave empty handed.
So here are three local bookstores, a customer who wants to buy a book from them who knows exactly what they want, but is told to get it for a good price, they have to buy it online, even if they buy it from them. If this customer is going to buy it online, why wouldn’t they just buy it from Amazon where they probably already buy a lot of other things, and upon checking, Amazon has the best price, and free shipping, anyway.
The result is a lost sale for the bookstore, not because they customer didn’t want to buy it there, but because the bookstore didn’t want to give them the price, selection, or convenience that they can get online.
The only advantage they have to online sales is their brick and mortar store, but they actually discourage their customers from going there by charging so much more if they do.