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Jeff Ward: Barnes & Noble Blows it Again!

Sadly, some things never change, even though they should!

The last time we talked about that Geneva Barnes & Noble, I was predicting the entire company’s inevitable demise. Just like it was with Borders, I firmly believe their brick and mortar façade will slowly fade away until, one day, the last store will close without much fanfare.

When that happens, the independent bookseller will, once again, rein supreme in malls and downtowns everywhere.

It may be true the chain cut their losses from $57 million to $41 million last quarter, but they did it on the back of e-books and sales of what may well be the worst written novels ever, the 50 Shades of Grey abominations.

Please note that the former doesn’t require a storefront and the latter is an aberration unlikely to repeat itself anytime soon. They may have bought some time, but do the math! Even if they keep their losses at a mere $41 million a quarter, how many concerns can continue to hemorrhage $164 million a year?

So when you consider face-to-face customer service that provides an instant gratification fix is their only hope, you’d think they’d focus on that aspect of the business to the exclusion of so much other white noise.

But no!

Spurred on by some sage advice from my favorite Tribune columnist, Steve Chapman, and my longsuffering Patch Editor, Rick Nagel, in an effort to expand my journalistic horizons, I embarked upon a quest to obtain copies of Chicago, Mother Jones and Vanity Fair magazines.

Ain’t that an eclectic group!

Of course, I could’ve just as easily purchased them online, but thought, “What the heck! I haven’t been inside a Barnes & Noble in over a year. Why not give them another shot? How could they possibly screw up a magazine purchase?. Who knows! It might be kind of fun.”

So, flushed with a newfound enthusiasm, I headed over to the Commons and made my way through those tall green wooden windowed doors.

The first thing I noticed was a rather charming young woman manning a relatively new Nook counter just inside the door. For the uninitiated, the Nook is Barnes & Noble’s e-reader. And when she immediately offered a genuine greeting complete with compelling smile, I thought, “My God! Is Barnes & Noble finally catching on? Did they actually read my columns? Maybe there’s hope yet!”

But no!

Because about five minutes later I got in the checkout line, which should’ve been prefaced by a large wooden sign reading, “Abandon hope all ye who enter here.”

To set the stage, I was the only person in the queue with two customers being rung up. When one of the clerks finished slightly ahead of the other, she acted as if she didn’t see me so I’d end up at her associate's station.

Annoying, but no big deal, I thought.

But after the second clerk waved me up and I reached the counter, she immediately turned to talk to her compatriot while completely ignoring me. So I simply stood there, magazines placed squarely on the counter.

Now, you know me! Normally my lack of shrinking violet tendencies would’ve evidenced itself in about 10 seconds, but this time, I wanted to see just how long they’d go on. After another 45 seconds of being dismissed, I curtly said, “Can’t you see I’m standing right here?”

Shocked, the clerk turned bright red and finally starting doing her job. When she asked if I was a club member (you know how much I hate those clubs) and I said “no,” she didn’t waste her time or any of my time by trying to get me to sign up.

And we’re not talking teenagers here. Both of these women were my age—late 40s to early 50s—and you really oughtta know better by then.

Since I had much better things to do than provide free consulting services to their manager (and since that kind of employee behavior always starts at the top), I simply exited through those same stately doors never to return.

Having fallen in love with my iPad, from this point forward, and even though I’m not always amused by the pricing, it’s either e-books, e-magazines, or used books from Amazon for me.

I’d prefer to shop locally, but those online stores are open 24/7, there’s no disinterested staff to contend with, finding something is a snap, I don’t have make another stop at the gas station, and I can shop completely naked (ain’t that a scary thought) in the vast comfort of my very own home office.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to get back to my iPad and Christopher Hitchens’ fascinating memoir.

Barnes & Noble! You won’t be missed.

Elaine Lane October 24, 2012 at 01:21 AM
The only thing I would have done differently is left the magazines on the counter before walking out.
Elaine Lane October 24, 2012 at 01:39 AM
Of course your trips to Barnes & Noble are pleasurable! You use their books and magazines without paying a dime. I guess that's one way to avoid interacting with their discourteous clerks. Oh, and this is just a suggestion, but since you say you have many wonderful hours of doing nothing but reading, maybe you could sign up for a refresher course in grammar. Yikes, you're kind of comma-happy in all the wrong places.
Jeff Ward October 24, 2012 at 02:35 PM
Elaine, I've done it a Best Buy for a similar incident!
Jeff Ward October 24, 2012 at 02:36 PM
Dear Readers, Talk about self-inflicted wounds! Read this B&N story that just came out today: http://money.cnn.com/2012/10/24/technology/barnes--noble-hack/index.html?hpt=hp_t3 Jeff
Noel G. Rooks October 24, 2012 at 03:54 PM
That's odd. B&N is one of the few places I go in the Commons where I do feel like I get good service. I'm always welcomed, asked if I need help - the only time I wait long in line is at Christmas, which is to be expected. Downtown is a whole different story, it is unusual to get bad service there. Do you know I got a thank you note from Geneva Running Outfitters yesterday, thanking me for my purchase? How awesome is that? In any case, as someone who spends time on both sides of the counter, I think civility is lacking in general, both from shoppers and retailers. I also don't think that B&N's decline will bring back the indy bookstore. The competition from online is too fierce, they can't meet the margins like an Amazon or an Alibris can.

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