I guess I am not too upset—it’s to be expected. I mean, how can some intangible entity do better than a flagship store full of people less than a ½ mile away who have access to the inventory of 11 other stores within a 10 mile radius? It would have been superhuman.
Even so there are opportunities for both Amazon and B&N to think bigger about who they are and how much more they could mean to consumers like me:
Amazon has the opportunity to become a new iteration of the personal shopper—the logistics alone for this are huge, but by celebrating the human element , not the algorithmic one, it offers a great moment to make a real connection.
Slap RFID tags in the boxes and make the processes trackable in a more concrete, personal way. It’s one thing to watch the transaction-abstraction of the slow but steady progress of a UPS or Fedex package making its way across our interstate system and networks of warehouses and shipping facilities by reading about each handoff taking place at strange hours of the day. It would be another brand experience entirely if you could watch a little blinking dot move down your local streets and avenues as it gets nearer and nearer your desk. Maybe the name of the guy carrying your book pops up with a picture and a link to his Facebook profile. It could help Amazon stand out a little bit more as online purchases might themselves be considered a commodity (Overstock.com, theFind.com, Shop.com, Google Shopping, PricerGrabber.com, not to mention eBay, craigslist, ShopIt and any retailer’s online destination.) We all really like Amazon because it works so swell—now maybe there is a way to love it.
B&N, on the other hand, obviously has an opportunity to rethink its logistics, the priorities of its customer care, and what value 8 Manhattan locations brings. Clearly it has a lot of books, both in Illinois and right down the street, but is it really a bookstore? The big thing it should consider: what does it want to be? My bet is that it sells less coffee than Starbucks, fewer books than Amazon, and fewer chotchkies than well, these guys. Is it a case of being everything to everyone? Struggling to find an analogue place in a digital world? Or, is it just a case of not being as relevant as it could?
What if B&N re-imagined itself as more than a purveyor of books, nooks, coffee, etc. because purveying doesn’t seem to be its strong suit, and instead focused on being the trusted curator of the very real and powerful ideas contained in all those books and discussions over coffee? Forego quantity (and alacrity for that matter) for quality and meaning and relevance.
Host debates. Reintroduce the soapbox. Be the unofficial corporate sponsor of the 1st Amendment. Be a little controversial. Get people talking. Be the place where ideas start and notions take hold. Be the place where innovation happens, start-ups are started, political careers are launched. Be a place people want to go to be inspired.
What if B&N found that it had more in common with the local public library or traditional coffeehouses that it does Amazon?
Book. Here on my desk. Decidedly before the end of a New York day.
Plus with the population densities of cities growing, I am guessing this same-day expectation is going to become less of an NYC–esque experience and more generally an urban one.
The real irony is that the people at Amazon have probably read the book I was looking for but the people at B&N have not.
Humans who innovate to deliver on a promise—with or without technology: 1
Humans who use bureaucracy as an excuse not to innovate: 0