Do you know what business you’re in?

Love the books..

It’s impossible to turn around your products if you don’t really know what business you’re in. Here’s an example.

I went to Barnes and Noble in San Mateo the other week and was confused by their attitude. I wanted to get a book about a particular topic, also a Spanish textbook, and Christina wanted to look for some gifts so the outing seemed ideal. As I wandered around the store the majority of the display material seemed to be about becoming a member of their club. It extolled the benefit of saving 10% on all purchases, but didn’t go into any detail. I, comfortable with my reasons for choosing a bricks and mortar store, ignored them to the extent I could and thumbed through books, had a coffee and a slice of cake, compared the content of the different Spanish-English dictionaries and generally enjoyed the smell of print.

An hour or so later, having chosen 4 or 5 books, a few gifts and some cards I queued up for the checkout. When I got to the register the guy scanned my basket and announced I would save $9 if I was a member of the club. “Are you a member?” he asked. By now I was sick of hearing about it. When I asked what it was, he told me that if I paid him $25 I would be able to save my $9 today, and 10% on every visit from now on.

By this point I was getting really confused. I had chosen to get my entire family in the car, drive several miles to a bookstore, all to browse a much smaller selection of goods than would be available online. Did he really think that the price of the books were my primary concern? So now that he had gone to the trouble of pointing out I was paying more than I needed to (and no, I don’t want to pay you $25 to save $9) I was pretty much ready to tell him to stuff his books and I’d go home and buy them on Amazon.

The problem seems to be the assumption that I had gone there because my only goal was to buy a book. Wrong. I had gone because I like the indulgence of a bookstore – I don’t know exactly what I want, so I go to look at the covers, flick through the pages, pile up a few and sit down to drink coffee while I choose. And I’m happy to pay a premium for that kind of experience.

How about a parallel. I want a new camera, so surely I just buy one online? Well perhaps, it would certainly be cheaper – but I don’t really know what I’m getting. Better that I go to the camera store where knowledgeable, polite assistants who understand photography select the best camera for my personal needs – and yes, it’s more expensive – but I’m happy to pay for the service that I get.

How about the time the chairman of Rolex was asked about the state of the watch industry? “Rolex is not in the watch business.” He replied, “We are in the luxury business.

Time after time we see schizophrenic businesses deliver products or experiences that don’t make any sense. Barnes and Noble should be in the business of getting me to pay a premium for a great experience – something that Amazon cannot match. Electronics stores should select sales reps because they are knowledgeable and helpful, not because they’re cheap. So come on guys, figure out what business you really are in, not what business you used to be in, and deliver your product accordingly.


One response to this post.

  1. Posted by SamD on November 24, 2009 at 9:59 am

    A mate of mine in Notts wrote a rant about some of the local music promoters a day or two back. I see parallels in what both of you are saying, and stuff that these promotors could do with reading…


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