Why Did Local Borders Go Belly Up? Maybe Lack of Personal Service?
The giant bookstore could have been a contender.
Geneva Patch columnist Beth Bale’s application of karma in regard to Borders closing 200 stores, including its St. Charles location, was dead on. The big-book chain, whose Randall Road appearance doomed any independent downtown Geneva bookstore, is itself on the brink of extinction at the hands of Internet foes like Amazon.
I’m not necessarily applying the word karma in the snarky “what goes around comes around sense” because I hate to see anyone lose their business or their job. No, I’m coming from the perspective that when it was Borders’ turn to face a determined and innovative competitor, while independents like Robin’s Book Store never had a chance, they could’ve competed. Instead, I predict Borders will completely shut down within two years.
Maybe it’s just my keen perception of the obvious, but how is it that so many brick and mortar stores fail to comprehend the two massive advantages they hold over their online counterparts?
First, let’s forget about that “In God we trust” malarkey. Our nation’s motto really ought to be “Give me instant gratification or give me death!” Amazon can offer super saver shipping or their “prime” program ($80 a year for “free” two-day shipping? Yeah right!) till they’re blue in the face, but they can’t come close to scratching that instant gratification itch.
And what was Borders’ 2008 answer to slumping sales? That’s right! Crain’s New York Business reported “steep cuts in inventory.” So much for instant gratification.
When a bookstore doesn’t have an item, the salesclerk will always pleasantly ask, “we can order it for you?” and I always want to reply “so can I.” Why should I let you order the book, drive back home, wait for you call me and then drive back to the store to pay more for the item than I would’ve likely paid online? After walking out empty-handed two or three times, you’ve trained customers to go to Amazon first. That can’t be a good business model.
Then, two weeks ago. my wife was waiting in an eight-person Borders line with one checker. She finally declared, “Can we get another register open?” and they did. She mumbled, “If I wanted to wait that long for my books I’d go to Amazon.”
The second and even greater advantage Borders and all local stores have is, every time a customer walks through that front door, it’s a perfect opportunity to develop a face-to-face relationship. Have any of you have had the misfortune of dealing with Amazon customer service? It sucks!
You have to go through web page hoops just to get to three final options, two of which are email or chat. God forbid you should actually talk to your customers. Amazon will call you, but there’s the inevitable hold time and if his name really is Michael then mine’s Rajneesh. God bless the fine folks in India for giving it their best shot, but the accents and cultural differences can make anything but the most basic questions an exercise in futility. I dread having to deal with them.
If they wouldn’t take it the wrong way, there are times I’ve wanted to hug a helpful store sales associate. And that warm, fuzzy feeling makes me want to come back! But what was Borders’ second strategy? Staff cuts! Have you been to the Geneva Borders lately? Where there was a help desk, they now have a bank of computers where you can look it up yourself! So now you’re training me to use a computer to find a book? As that Guinness commercial used to go, “Brilliant!”
Ironically, the one place they could actually press a computer advantage is their “check store inventory” option on their website. But my wife tells me it’s never accurate and, whenever she’s tried to reserve a book, it didn’t work!
So instead of clinging to and advancing that which separates them from their Net nemeses, Borders tossed those advantages aside like an empty book carton. And now they’re closing 200 stores. More on Borders on Wednesday.