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December 18, 2015

Bookstores Make A Comeback Through Customer Experience

Posted by Amitabh Mudaliar (View Profile | View All Posts) at 11:30 AM

'The Guardian' Names 'Powell's' Best Independent Bookstore Worldwide [Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r-HHIg7rRIc]

The end-of-the-year shopping spree is fun if for only one reason: To see what the creative advertising firms of Madison Avenue have come up with in terms of memorable TV spots. My favorite this year is an ad for the Barnes & Noble bookstore. Pop music stars Lady Gaga and Tony Bennett are shopping for books and meeting each other inside the store, which, of course, results in the two of them belting out a duet. Both Bennett and Lady Gaga are holding up the books they presumably are going to purchase. The store, decked up in resplendent holiday decorations, is part of an overall TV commercial that proclaims that the death of the brick-and-mortar store has been greatly exaggerated.

Not too long ago retail analysts were predicting the death of bookstores like Barnes & Noble. So what, they said, if the store had coffee boutiques within each space or impromptu concerts by local chamber music groups? None of these mattered when compared with the sheer power and influence of the giant web retailers. Could it be, however, that we as consumers became downright intimidated by unmanned delivery drones, and reports in the press about the lousy working conditions in the fulfillment centers of the web retails? Could a quick walk or car ride to a local Barnes & Noble, beautifully decorated for the shopping season, actually be an enjoyable experience?

The answer is a resounding YES. Why else has Amazon opened a bookstore in Seattle this holiday season? You see, today customer relationship management (CRM) is being displaced by customer experience (CX). CRM suggests that brand owners are in control; they dictate the relationship with consumers. Remember how important it used to be (and still is) that prominent CPG brands be on store shelves that are eye-level? The difference with CX, is how customers are managing relationships with brands they like. The consumer is now in control.

The fact that the retail world is moving beyond CRM is a testament to the catchy Barnes & Noble advertisement. In the old days of CRM, retailers would know that a consumer bought certain kinds of books. Now, with CX, the retailer can analyze how many times the consumer has driven by the brick-and-mortar bookstore; how many times he has browsed for books on similar topics; and the likelihood that he will buy peripherals (tablets, board games, puzzles, bookends, etc.) related to the previous purchase. It's about an enterprise consuming the data at hand more effectively. If CRM meant blanketing the airwaves with adverts for books of all kinds, CX means targeting each consumer with books they are inclined to buy.

Sir Isaac Newton, in his Laws of Motion, wrote that a body at rest will continue to be at rest unless there is some sort of external push. Decision-making, says one scholar, is not unlike this Newtonian law: Unless someone is nudged in a different direction or to do something different, he will go on doing whatever he's always done. Therein lies the power of CX; it's re-writing how enterprises get their consumers to change course or to get going and shop altogether.

And because CX is so far advanced in its leveraging of consumer analytics, retailers know that brick-and-mortar stores, once left for dead, have risen from the ashes like a phoenix and become serious tools in their marketing arsenals. You might not run into Tony Bennett while walking up and down the aisles of your local bookstore, but you might receive emails or notifications to your social media sites on your mobile device, letting you know about an in-store event or sale.

Well, brick-and-mortar stores will never be out of fashion, thanks to the continuing evolution and sophistication of CX solutions. And perhaps also because there's something special about keeping the neighborhood shop alive. An independent family-owned bookstore in Brooklyn (which is coincidentally located a couple of blocks away from a Barnes & Noble) is one of the many independent bookstores that are thriving. According to the American Booksellers Association, from 2009 to 2014, the number of independent bookstores has increased by 27 percent.

Winter's here. It may be cold outside. But not cold enough to discourage consumers to brave the elements and check out the offerings in their favorite brick-and-mortar stores. It smells like a comeback to me.

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