The Sunday before Black Friday I went to my favorite local Barnes & Noble store to kill some time before heading to the mall to get a cord for my mp3 player. This is a normal procedure for me…over the years Barnes & Noble has become my favored spot for doing a little investigative shopping while also enjoying a much favored Grande Mocha extra-hot.
With 45 minutes to kill before the mall opened, I started browsing the business book section and found one that I was interested in. I started looking through the first couple of pages and realized that I was getting interested in the book. I decided to walk over an isle or two to see if I could find a comfy chair to dig in a little deeper. To my disappointment, all of the soft chairs that formerly littered the store were gone (apparently with the remodel).
I understand that there are customers that may use these chairs to turn Barnes & Noble into a reading library, where no purchase is made. But I would venture to say, there are more customers like me who sometimes like to get a little more into the book before making a decision (if you haven’t noticed, its hard to find a hardback book under $29.99), and I have always valued Barnes and Noble letting me do this…which has made it my loyal spot for purchasing books.
Now, you might say…well just go in the Cafe and enjoy your book there. Getting beyond the hard back chair (which some marketing genius probably determined were so uncomfortable that it sped up the purchase rate and decreased loitering), there is a bigger story to tell…whether this was to give customers more selection or to curb loitering behavior in the store, it actually punishes the larger segment of customers who are truly loyal and will pay a higher price to get this book in a store. And it takes away the uniqueness that made Barnes and Noble a very successful chain of brick and mortar stores, in the age of Amazon.com.
It makes me wonder what they are thinking; especially when customers are moving to downloaded books (which Barnes and Noble is promoting with Nook) and reading blogs instead of buying books and magazines, this move away from customer pleasure to cold stacking of shelves seems self-destructive.
I hope customers rise up against this when they see it. I hope they trumpet it online so much that Barnes and Noble can’t ignore it. Not in the hopes of bringing down the bookseller. Absolutely not! We love Barnes and Noble. But instead, to exert effort in getting them to focus on customers over profits. That communication and feedback is what social media is all about…and in this new social marketing paradigm, those that listen to their customers will profit. Those that don’t risk not only profit, but reputation and existence.
So my message is, when creating a unique customer-centric brand, don’t remove the chairs. There are too many available ways for customers to tear down your reputation through online feedback. And if you do make a mistake, own up to it and fix it fast. Fair or not, loyal customers will turn on you quick if they feel you aren’t being loyal to your brand. And as all marketers know, loyal customers are the bread and butter of almost any business.