What should low-margin brick-and-mortar retailers do to compete effectively against nimbler online rivals? Create a unified customer experience that integrates retail and online. At least that’s the gist of the unsolicited advice for struggling book retailer Barnes & Noble in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal.
Most of the authors, retailers and agents cited in the article give Barnes & Noble credit for its ambitious e-book offerings, but suggest it could better leverage its brick-and-mortar presence. One key advantage a physical location offers is ease-of-browsing. As the president of a New York literary agency puts it: “Discovery of new titles still happens primarily though physical bookstores.”
The recommendations to maximize Barnes & Noble’s discovery potential apply to brick-and-mortar retailers generally, not just bookstores. Key recommendations include:
1. Host a variety of destination activities like release parties, author signings and book club meetings.
2. Feature low-risk products, e.g., paperbacks as opposed to more expensive hardbacks.
3. Offer aggressive bundling and discounting, such as free digital copies with the purchase of an author- or genre-based bundle.
4. Reorganize the store—perhaps using new types of displays—to facilitate the discovery of new products.
5. Implement clear, compelling signage and/or other way-finding systems, such as employee recommendation tags, to help match customers to products of interest.
The trick to a successful brick-and-mortar enterprise is enhancing what sets it apart from online competitors. Discovery is definitely one of those distinguishing assets.