B&N Showrooms for…B&N

Laura Hazard Owen, writing for Gigaom.com, reports a unique strategy for combating the practice known as “showrooming”.

In showrooming, customers enter a bookstore, browse, then select (or scan the barcode of) the book they want to purchase, walk out of the store and order it from an online bookstore. Which makes the independent store a mere display space for customers to order books from its competitors. Last Christmas Amazon actually promoted the practice, outraging indy stores. One got so mad it stopped doing business with the behemoth. (See Can You Survive without Amazon?)

Barnes & Noble, the highest-profile target of showrooming, is now in a position to fight fire with fire. Microsoft’s investment in B&N’s Nook business gives the bookstore chain the potential for a showroom that loops back to its own inventory via the Nook.

“B&N CEO William Lynch says that the company plans to embed NFC (near field communication) chips into Nooks,” reports Owen. “Users could take their Nook into a Barnes & Noble store and wave it near a print book to get info on it or buy it.”

It’s an interesting concept, but there’s a big flaw in the reasoning.  Showrooming enables customers to scan a high-priced book in a brick and mortar store, then buy it at a discount on an Internet store.  In other words, if you scan a $20.00 book in a Barnes & Noble bookstore, then go to B&N’s online store, you’ll be able to buy it for, say, $16.00.  Then why, you will ask, can’t I pay $16.00 inside the bookstore?

For a showroom to work properly you need two components: a physical space with physical books to browse; and a virtual space to actually buy them. Think of a library where physical books are on display for browsing only. Customers choose the titles they want, swipe a credit card, and wait a short time while the book is printed on an Espresso-type printer.

We’ve been buttonholing readers with this mad scheme for years, and you can see some of our postings about kiosks here.

Richard Curtis

This blog post was originally published on Digital Book World as Showdown for Showrooms


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