The Many Reasons Why Borders Bookstores Failed – Courtesy of Management Gurus

None of the gurus named or implied actually said anything about Borders, just taking their stated recommendations and applying it to Borders. You can see the futility of adopting that single magic, one-size-fits-all and Guru’s pedigree based recipes for running a business.

  1. Marketing is about telling stories. Borders failed to tell a compelling story that customers want to believe.
  2. Borders did not have a Level 5 leader. That would have moved them from Good to Great.
  3. They should have focused on their existing customers and retained them. Because increasing loyalty by 5% will increase profits by 80%. Not only that, the loyal customers will continue to pay higher prices.
  4. Borders stores were not managed and run by designers, they lacked Design Thinking.
  5. They did not follow the Toyota Way of lean manufacturing and lean inventories.
  6. Borders should have been a Long Tail retailer. (while this may sound as plausible, I would point you to the fact that Amazon makes bulk of its revenue not from the so called Long Tail products).
  7. Borders failed to Enchant their customers, the should have influenced people to keep coming back and pay the full price even though Amazon was selling it at 40% off.
  8. Borders failed in the area of customer service. They should have under-promised and over-delivered.
  9. Borders should have increased their prices by 1% because that would have resulted in 12-15% profit they could have used to grow the business.
  10. Borders lacked good copy-writing in their Ads. If the copy is fun and engages the customer they would come and pay full price for the books.
  11. Borders failed to recognize that marketing is about customer conversations. Your customers are having conversations about you whether you are part of it or not. Borders was left out of the conversation.
  12. Borders should have adopted co-creation, working with the customers to design the books they want to read.
  13. They should not have been running the business based on Airport business books instead they should have run this like a Silicon Valley startup. They should have gotten out of the building and talked to customers and pivoted.
  14. They should not have been running the traditional media Ads. They should have been blogging and done inbound marketing.
  15. Their website should have been ridiculously easy to use. It is all about the user experience.
  16. Borders employees were not in the “flow“, when employees are really engaged in what they are doing the business results take care of themselves.
  17. Discovering books should be fun, a game. Customers must be surprised, not knowing what is going to come next week. They failed to recognize this.
  18. A street vendor selling vegetables in India is still in business. Borders is not. They should have learned from that vendor.
  19. Borders stores and their eBook were not remarkable. When you are remarkable, people will remark on it.
  20. Borders should have given free lessons on each subject. Like Lulu Lemon did they should have asked local speakers and tutors to come teach free classes on various subjects at their stores.
  21. The should have adopted , The Sony Way, The Motorola Way, The GE Way, The Apple Way, …
  22. They should have followed in the footsteps Justin Bieber, Lady Gaga, Bruce Lee, Michael Jordan, …

Do you have one?

 

Imagining the Groupon Vs. Barnes and Noble Conversation

Plug for my book: To Group Coupon Or Not: Small Business Guide to Groupon, LivingSocial and Others is now available!

Two weeks back it was LivingSocial that captured the attention cycles of social media with its Amazon deal – they gave away $20 worth Amazon gift card for $10. When it all ended, in less than 24 hours they sold 1.2 million gift cards. Potentially many of them are new subscribers – I was one of them.

Not to be outdone, two days back it was Groupon’s turn to run very similar campaign but with Barnes & Noble (competitor to Amazon in books, eBooks and eBook readers). Very similar deal. I cannot tell the number of coupons sold from the deal web page.

Here is a completely hypothetical description of  how the deal conversation between the Groupon and Barnes&Noble business development managers would have went (B&N conversation assumes I am their biz dev guy):

Groupon: You saw the great deal Amazon did? They did $10 million in gift card sales in one day.
B&N: Yes, we were wondering about that.
Groupon: Think of how many of your sales they probabaly took because of that.
B&N: Well, we don’t think so. Those could all be Amazon customers already.
Groupon: But you can do just that to them, you can take away their sales.
B&N: How is that?
Groupon: Give away $20 worth of products for $10 with us. We have lot more subscribers, your deal will could sell lot more than 1.2 million.
B&N: Would that not cost $10 to $12 million for us and not to mention your fee.
Groupon: Customers who buy the gift cards usually spend more.
B&N: How much more will they spend? Can you give us 90% confidence interval estimates  what percentage spend at least $20 more?
Groupon: It has worked for many of our customers, more than 90% say they will try again.
B&N: So we read a theory by Iterative Path that Amazon did not have to pay some or all of the $10 discount and the same for the fee to LivingSocial.
Groupon: But that is just a hypothesis, there is no evidence.
B&N: Very true. But it is likely. Didn’t LivingSocial gain more from the deal? Is it not the same case here? You will get many new subscribers or at least big visibility in media. We are not convinced we get much out of a $15 million spend. If you paid for the deal completely and pay us $5 for every new subscriber you get, we will do the deal.

Could this have happened?

Should Barnes & Noble Go After Kindle?

With Borders shutting down stores and facing declining profits, Barnes & Noble remains the only strong brick and mortar bookstore. While it faces strong competition from discounters like Amazon, WalMart and Costco, its new threat comes from the change in consumer preference from  paper books to eBooks. While there were other eBook formats and readers, the threat was not credible until Amazon entered the market with its own Kindle eBook reader.

The real threat is not from the device but from Amazon’s strategy to own the distribution through its Kindle store. Amazon is more than a bookseller, it is a Platform company (Mr. Jeff Bezos once described Amazon as the Ideas company). It has the wherewithal to develop a home grown distribution platform, build an ecosystem around it and quickly gain control of the ecosystem. But B&N does not have the technology and a strong R&D team.

Clearly B&N knows this weakness and sees the threat posed by Amazon’s Kindle store. It however can acquire the technology to fast-track its eBook strategy and it did exactly that. B&N is  set to answer Amazon with its own eBook store with its acquisition of FictionWise an eBook retailer.

Stated in the same report is that B&N is going to develop its own eBook reader, a competitor to Kindle if you will. This is not the right strategy for B&N. As I stated in my previous article the Kindle device is not the main focus of Amazon and it will gladly give that market to control the distribution value chain. B&N should not be distracted by the success of Kindle device. The war is about the control of distribution platform not handheld devices. It cannot dilute its scare resources by focusing on both the eBook distribution platform market and the devices market as this would only enable Amazon strengthen its platform leadership position.

Strategy is about making choices and allocating limited resources and not straddling. So forget going after Kindle device, it is a  red herring. B&N’s strategy should be to become another platform option for publishers and authors who would not want to see just one strong player in the eBook market.

Amazon Kindle – The Platform Wars

Back in July 2008 I wrote about Amazon’s Kindle Strategy. I said they are not in it to capture the devices market but rather win the distribution platform market.

It is driving the new format, reduce the value captured by publishers and position itself to be the distribution medium of choice. The goal is to capture the format market and control the value chain and not the devices market. Since no one else s making such devices amazon.com took this on itself.

There is news today from Amazon that signals the move in that direction. Amazon announced today that they will release a Kindle iPhone Application that lets iPhone and iPod Touch users read Kindle books on their devices instead of Kindle. This program is available for free, a right move that fits with the platform strategy to increase footprint. The Kindle App will be a bit with  iPhone users and it will reach top 10 among most downloaded.

Is this program targeted at its existing Kindle customers or new customers? While Amazon says it is adding convenience to Kindle owners allowing them to read books while they are away from their Kindle device, it is directly targeted at converting new users and increasing Kindle format footprint. For the very near term (within days) even if 1% of 10 million (approximate) iPhone/Touch users bought just 1 book at $9.99, that is  $1 million in new revenue. For the long term this translates into not only more revenue from repeat purchases and new customers but also delivers on Amazon’s goal to win he platform war.

Questions do arise on why Amazon introduced Kindle at all and why it did not go for iPhone application in the first place. I think Amazon’s strategy evolved since the introduction of Kindle. The biggest factor of Kindle device is the readability with its e-ink technology, there will always be a segment willing to buy this device for this factor alone. Techcrunch downloaded Kindle App for iPhone and reported they had same reading experience on iPhone as on Kindle. Amazon probably also wanted  to be negotiating with Apple from a position of strength having a powerful BATNA (Best Alternative To Negotiated Agreement).

Other Winners and losers? By giving the program away for free Amazon denied any revenue to Apple.  Authors and Publishers stand to gain more from increased book sales. Magazines and Newpapers  that received subscription revenue from Kindle subcribers stand to lose any additional revenue from new subscribers. This is because iPhone readers can access the content using the browser and with existing online subscription instead of paying a separate subscription fee for reading on Kindle. To some extent Sprint Nextel that has the contract with Amazon to deliver books on-demand to Kindle devices stands to lose.

Overall, Amazon will win because of its clear strategy and flaw less execution.