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Evan Schuman: Barnes & Noble plays into Amazon's hands

Evan Schuman | Aug. 13, 2014
Same-day delivery is a boon for the online leader, but it will only help doom B&N.

And so, back to B&N. Last week it announced same-day shipping trials in New York City, West Los Angeles and San Francisco. By doing so, it was clearly trying to play catch-up with Amazon, which just one day before had expanded its same-day shipping service to Baltimore, Dallas, Indianapolis, New York City, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C.

Where is the competitive advantage for B&N? In fact, it seems to be playing into Amazon's hands. When both booksellers are pushing same-day delivery, this devolves into a battle focusing on inventory and price. Put another way: Amazon wins. The only way for B&N to win is to focus on the inherent advantages of a physical bookstore. (Although, realistically, winning for B&N is going to look more like simply putting off losing and utter devastation for a few months or, at most, a year or two.)

B&N isn't alone in making such a mistake. This is a problem throughout much of retail. Physical chains try to battle online retailers by replicating online services. Have they even thought this through? The initial bookstore response to online is the correct one. Invest in comfortable chairs and tables, pipe in topic-conducive music in the different sections of the store. Sell lots of coffee and snacks for people to enjoy while reading. Have authors come in and speak and sign books. Set up discussions. Use your online presence to drive more traffic to the physical stores.

In short, do the things that your customers want and that Amazon can't. Same-day delivery is a great move for Amazon and a self-defeating one for B&N. Getting customers more comfortable with the idea of fast book delivery serves only to enhance Amazon's standing.


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