How Barnes & Noble Is Trying To Make an Epic Comeback

Jeff Bezos founded Amazon back in 1994 claiming it would be “the world’s largest bookstore.”

At the time, it would have to displace Barnes & Noble. And many investors laughed off Amazon because they wondered why consumers would want to buy books online when they could just go to Barnes & Noble.

Barnes & Noble even sued Amazon in 1997 because it claimed Amazon wasn’t a bookstore at all. Rather, it was a book broker.

My how the tables have turned! Barnes & Noble’s revenue fell from $5.39 billion in 2012 to $3.48 billion in 2019.

They’ve gone through a series of CEOs and strategies during that time. And obviously, with coronavirus doing its damage, the outlook isn’t too good.

Nevertheless, James Daunt has taken over as CEO and has a grand vision to make Barnes & Noble a great bookstore again.

How Can Barnes & Noble Be a Leading Bookstore in a Coronavirus Market That’s Also Dominated by Amazon?

Daunt’s idea is to focus heavily on in-store experience. If you’ve read our blog for any amount of time, you’ve heard us consistently say that’s the way for physical retailers to compete with Amazon.

The new CEO, a lifelong retail bookseller, wants to make an intimate, small-store experience the norm. To prove it, he closed a large New York City store.

And he didn’t just invent this strategy out of thin air. Rather, he’s analyzed how small, local, and independent bookstores have managed to survive an Amazon-dominated world and wants to replicate their model at scale.

Basically, small stores have store managers who live, love, and know books. They also understand their local market and view themselves as an important part of the community.

So, while the pandemic wreaks its havoc, Daunt is using the time as an opportunity to revamp the Barnes & Noble in-store experience.

He’s decimating the inside of Barnes & Noble stores.

For example, years of out-of-touch centralized management have left Barnes & Noble stores with disjointed book placement. Comic books have routinely been found right behind history books, a strange experience for customers.

Daunt’s goal is to create the opportunity for book lovers to explore and discover, possibly for hours.

And wisely, Daunt isn’t relying on himself to create a magic formula. Rather, he’s allowing bookselling teams to make their own judgments as appropriate for the local market.

Hopefully, that transforms the Barnes & Noble in-store experience from an odd, impersonal one to a fascinating and engaging adventure for customers.

Will It Work?

After reading Daunt’s strategy, it lines up with market trends. You can’t compete directly with Amazon, so don’t.

Instead, offer a personal experience Amazon can’t and won’t invest in. Let local managers build a store that caters specifically to the market’s needs.

It sounds like a great formula for success.

But only time will tell if the strategy works or not.

What do you think? What have you learned that could apply to your retail strategy?