Why I Rarely Visit Barnes & Noble Anymore

My husband and I both love physical bookstores. The Barnes & Noble in Fort Collins is near our house. We used to go there 3-4 times per month to browse and usually buy, either a book or two or a magazine and often some drinks. But that changed completely earlier this year.

Sometime near the beginning of 2017 we went into our store to check out the new fiction. There was no new fiction – the sections were gone. We figured they were reorganizing and didn’t think much of it, until our next visit when we again found no new fiction on the shelves.

We asked an employee and got this answer:

“We believe this is an enhanced shopping experience by integrating the New Releases into the bookcases creating a home for all of an author’s works. We think this is an improvement as discovery of titles that a customer may not have been familiar with.”

That was disappointing, as checking out the new books was typically our #1 reason for going to the bookstore. And not just for showrooming – we bought there frequently too.

Now, our B&N was not the greatest user experience. Typically in  the months leading up to this drastic change, they were short-staffed and we’d have to wait in line at the registers. Sometimes there would be 10+ people in line with one staff member manning checkout, calling over the store PA system for help between each customer and never getting any help. But removing the new release sections pretty much negated the reason for most of our visits – a big downgrade in UX.

While we were on vacation in Arizona in March, we went into a B&N there just to see, and found the same thing. We asked the manager, and got the exact same response as before – word for word.

The impact of this business ‘improvement.’

Our membership, which we’d had for at least 10 years, came up for renewal in May. I didn’t renew. I sent an email to B&N.com explaining why, and, once again, they sent me the exact same response, word for word. They believe it’s an enhanced shopping experience not to be able to find new books in your favorite genres. They think it’s an improvement. But did they ask their customers? Was this the result of research? Or was it a decision based on saving money?

In any event, this is how our use of our local B&N has changed this year:

  • We now visit maybe once every 6-8 weeks instead of 3-4 times per month.
  • We spend about 5-10 minutes in the store instead of the typical 15-45 minutes we used to spend.
  • We typically buy only a magazine or two, and almost never buy books.
  • We don’t get drinks or snacks because we canceled our membership and don’t get discounts anymore.
  • I estimate that our spending here has decreased by about 90%.
  • We browse for our new books on Amazon now. Less enjoyable, but at least they’re easy to find.

I’m sure it was a big decision to stop displaying new books in their genre sections, for whatever reason, but I suspect this decision may come back to bite B&N.

P.S. Something interesting I found while writing this post – What B&N Doesn’t Get About Bookstores.