Barnes and Nobel’s Boutique Nook Store: What Makes it Different to Amazon’s

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After Amazon’s physical book stores, Barnes and Nobel plans a physical Nook store to be launched this year.

One of the challenges of that (prototype) store is going to be the digital experience,” CEO Boire told conference-goers. “I don’t think until you’re fully connected—mobile, desktop, and store—that you’re going to be providing the full experience. That’s our goal.

I love their angle on connecting their physical stores to their e-readers. Waterstones had these boxed ebooks on shelves that you had to take to the counter, pay for, and then download via in store wifi. It’s true they loaded via wifi onto any e-reader, but queuing for a digital product was counter intuitive.

So, how will Barnes and Nobel deal with this? NFC chips on the back of book covers, I would imagine, based on this interview with ex-CEO William Lynch in 2012:

We’re going to start embedding NFC chips into our Nooks. We can work with the publishers so they would ship a copy of each hardcover with an NFC chip embedded with all the editorial reviews they can get on BN.com. And if you had your Nook, you can walk up to any of our pictures, any our aisles, any of our bestseller lists, and just touch the book, and get information on that physical book on your Nook and have some frictionless purchase experience. That’s coming, and we could lead in that area.

It’s true that I’m not seeing any Nook devices with NFC available on Barnes and Nobel store yet (although of course, many mobile devices have NFC already and their app is promoted prominently on their site) but it gives an idea of Barnes and Noble’s long game.

Connecting online sales to offline marketing (and vice versa) has always created a data gap filled with GQ codes and google tagged short links on flyers and billboards – but anything that takes effort on the part of the consumer, such as downloading a QR code reader or entering a non-readable, randomly generated short link, or even standing in line with a ridiculous empty box in your hands that needs to be scanned before you can download you ebook- is a barrier to sales. Meanwhile, publishers don’t need to embed NFC chips into their books on printing: Barnes and Nobel can stick them on in the same way that every product has a chip to stop you sneaking them outside the stores.

With a physical store boosting sales of their branded devices, promoting their bookstore app, and control over their own device hardware, it’s a nice way of making the transaction of digital product in a physical store seamless and pleasurable, gaining a bigger share of the digital sales, as well as connecting which stores -if there should be more than one in the future- influence more digital sales.

I can even see the potential for a Audible-like or kindle Unlimited style subscription model, where you get X number of books for free per month or unlimited per month. Maybe even retargeting customers who “bump” a book or otherwise load it but don’t complete the sales transaction.

Even without NFC, I definitely hope that customers won’t be expected to scan books with a separate store app nor be required to enter the title manually in their Nook app or device for searching. Both are equivalent of queueing for digital in this day and age: a barrier.

The barcode scanner in GoodReads can pull up book information from their database, so at the very least – although it’s less elegant than Lynche’s idea, I would hope that Barnes and Nobel make a scanner part of their app and make it easy to launch without needing to search for it in their menu sidebar. The risk is that a percentage of consumers will load the book details, walk out of the store and then purchase it later after thinking about it, so the data gap won’t be closed if they have more than one store in the future.

The barcode scanner in the GoodReads app brings up book data and reviews
The barcode scanner in the GoodReads app brings up book data and reviews and could be a model on which the Nook store connects their physical and digital products

Either way, the store will make their store ecosystem more visible in a bustling market of competing bookstore apps. The company’s online sales took a hit of 15.9% in 2015 with their relaunch of their BN.com website.

To me, bringing in the right talent that truly understands the difference between digital and physical and how they’re all coming together is critical.

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