Barnes & Noble draws up a digital prototype store

February 23, 2016 03:45 PM

Bookseller Barnes & Noble Inc. plans to open a digitally influenced prototype bookstore later this year.

CEO Ron Boire made the announcement today at the annual eTail West conference in Palm Springs, Calif.

“One of the challenges of that store is going to be the digital experience,” he said. “I don’t think until you’re fully connected—mobile, desktop and store—that you’re going to be providing the full experience. That’s our goal.”

Boire wouldn’t elaborate on what the store is going to include from a digital and mobile perspective, where it is going to be located, or even when it is going to open.

“We’re not talking specifics about the store right now except we are opening something in calendar 2016 and it will be different than the traditional Barnes & Noble store,” he said.

Barnes & Noble is following rival Inc., which in November opened a bookstore—its first —in Seattle. The 7,400-square-foot store carries 5,000-6,000 SKUs, and data collected on plays a role in merchandising, with customer ratings on display, for example. Its main aisle highlights Amazon’s consumer electronics, including the Kindle e-reader and tablets, the Amazon Echo and Amazon Fire TV. Amazon is No. 1 in the Internet Retailer 2015 Top 500 Guide.

Barnes & Noble (No. 47), has had a tough start to fiscal 2016, online and off. Barnes & Noble doesn’t break out online sales figures, instead lumping them in B&N Retail segment. In its 10-Q filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, the retailer reported retail revenue of $1.80 billion for the first six months of 2016, down 2.3% from $1.84 million during the same time last year.

“Online sales were impacted by the launch of the new website, decreasing $23.7 million, or 15.9%, versus the prior year,” the company wrote in the filing.

In its first two earnings reports of fiscal 2016, Barnes & Noble has reported online sales declines.

When asked what he’s doing to reverse online declines, Boire demurred.

“Our growth is around things that can help you learn and grow and be better as a person,” he said. “That is fundamental to the book business. Our toys and games business has been very strong. We are bringing new customers into our stores and online with things like our vinyl business,” he said. The Vinyl Store section of its website features vinyl record albums and turntables.

The retailer also relaunched its flagship website during the summer of 2015 with the goal of improving search and how online shoppers navigate the site. On the retailer’s Q2 2016 earnings call, Boire told analysts that Barnes & Noble’s  traffic had been growing into the third quarter.

In January, the retailer promoted Mary Amicucci to chief merchandising offer, responsible for working closely with chief digital officer Fred Argir to help drive e-commerce sales.

The bookseller’s e-commerce foundation is in place, Boire said at the conference. Now the company must build on it.

“We have a lot of opportunity,” he says. “We launched our new website last year. We built a new digital team over the last year or so. To me, bringing in the right talent that truly understands the difference between digital and physical and how they’re all coming together is critical.”




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