Friday, November 1, 2019

Amazon is Not Stealing Your Business

Full disclosure: I am not a full-time marketing consultant, nor do I claim to be an authority on the subject. But I read much through the years about marketing and business to know more than the average consumer. Twice in the past month local businesses closed doors and on the evening news, on both instances, the owners of said stores publicly claimed "Amazon killed our business" and "Amazon stole our customers." For the record, this statement is an opinion and not a fact. For the record, no one at Amazon phones customers to encourage them to stop buying from the competition. Fact: Many companies give customers a reason to stop shopping with them and instead go to Amazon. I see this all the time. Every day.

This is the book I wanted to buy and read.
I recently paid a visit to Barnes and Noble, that national chain responsible for selling books -- especially for the relatively smallest of percentage who do not have any other options to buy books because they are not on the Internet. 

As expected, you can tell when you first walk in that they want the customer in and out as quick as possible by having the hottest titles displayed right at the front, with discounted (and damaged) books closer to the check-out line. Worse, half the books I looked at were out of date. One book focused on the future of marketing on the Internet and mentioned Yahoo would become the biggest (and only) search engine, Apple would file bankruptcy if they continued to sell smartphones and not stick with computers, and My Space was supposedly the latest trend. After checking the copyright page I discovered the book was published in 2006 and revised in 2010. Why on earth was that book still being offered for sale in Barnes and Noble? At that point I started browsing the books on that same shelf and discovered half of the books were seriously out of date!

Skimming through the pages of multiple books and spot-checking bullet points to determine whether it was a book I wanted to read, excitedly I found one. At the check-out register, however, I was shocked to discover that they would not price match Amazon. The book retailed $24 and Amazon had the book for $12. "We do price match our own website," the cashier told me. Barnes and Noble's price on their website was $21. I asked why they would not price match the competition and it was explained to me, "That is corporate policy." This might explain why there were only four customers in the entire store at the time. (The coffee shop next door had more customers.) Do not get me wrong. If the book was $14 or $15 at Barnes and Noble, I would have paid for it solely for the convenience.

When I was in the publishing business, I used to sell books to Barnes and Noble. Twenty years ago it was a different market. For every book Barnes and Noble sold, Amazon sold ten. A few years later the numbers had changed. For every book Barnes and Noble sold, Amazon sold a hundred. At present count, I never sold a book to Barnes and Noble in the last twelve years. Today, Amazon buys books by the case, shipped to their warehouses. Seriously, Amazon is truly the 400-pound gorilla in the industry.

Where am I going with all this? Stay with me...

Twenty years ago I religiously visited Borders Books in Towson, Maryland, every Saturday morning to get a cup of hot tea and relax with a book. Their employees were always eager to help assist. I romantically loved the atmosphere. Borders Books truly was my "third place." And for a couple hours once a week I was able to self-educate with whatever subject matter I wanted to read and learn that had my interest at the time. I spent untold amounts of money on books with Borders and even today I have no regrets. [sigh...] How I long for those days again... 

For the record, I had three hours to kill while my car was being worked on and decided to revisit my youth by walking over to Barnes and Noble to buy a book and sit down on a sofa to relax and read. That was the recent trip I referenced above and the same visit to their store that they surprised me with their price-match policy.

What puzzles me is why corporate executives at Barnes and Noble will not price match the competition. I agree that Amazon has low overhead and huge purchasing power, while Barnes and Noble has overhead to deal with such as employee labor and lease agreements. True, Barnes and Noble has a website but they are clearly operating a 20th century business model in the 21st century. It remains a mystery why, at this late date, a company dependent on retail sales has yet to even price match Amazon just to retain repeat customers. One of these days an executive at Barnes and Noble will do what those two local shops cried foul on the evening news, and claim Amazon stole their customers, putting them out of business. But shed no tears for the book store that will one day (probably sooner than later) close doors or sell out to another company.

As for today's scenario, I returned the book to its proper place on the shelf and consulted my iPad (which I happened to have at the time) to purchase the Kindle version of that same book from Amazon for $11.

As you can see by the photo below, I am now sitting here in Barnes and Noble (having never stepped out of the physical four walls of their store), relaxing with that cup of hot Earl Grey tea, reading a book I bought from Amazon (their competition), using Amazon's Kindle app. 





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