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Mediocrity at Barnes & Nobles and why Amazon.com is winning

November 11th, 2008 · No Comments

Seth Godin had a very insightful post "The sad lie of mediocrity".

Call it Synchronicity — right after I read the post, I encountered mediocrity in action at local Barns & Nobles book store.

Every September, I buy a copy of INC 500, Special 2008 Issue. I love the entrepreneurial success stories of the fastest-growing companies. Since Inc’s list is based on actual revenue growth numbers, I feel it is more credible than other lists.

I was really busy in September, and didn’t get a chance to buy the special 2008 issue. When I went to book stores in early October, the October issue of Inc. has already come out. The Special Issue was considered "back copy", and it was sold out at most stores.

However, I did find one copy at my local Barns & Nobles store. It looked that hundreds of people had touched it. The right edge of the front cover was torn. I first saw it in the store in the beginning of October, but didn’t buy it because it was in such a  bad shape and I was hoping to find a copy somewhere else.

I didn’t have any luck at other stores. Last Friday, I went to the local Barnes & Nobles again. To my surprise, the same old copy of Inc. special issue was still in display.

I went to the store clerk.

"The cover is torn. It’s in really bad shape. Can I get a discount for this?" I asked.

"No. We get a lot of other magazines that are in similar conditions. We sell them at cover price."

"Are you sure? This has been there for a month. Nobody is going to buy it any way."

"I don’t think it’s a back copy. You don’t see a newer issue, do you?" Apparently, the clerk didn’t even know whether the magazine was the current issue — the October issue was on the shelf.

The clerk went to take a break. I talked to another clerk, and got the same answer.

This is an opportunity for them to delight me as a customer. If they’ve offered me 20% discount, I’d have made the purchase even though the magazine was in really bad shape.

They would have built a relationship with me. I’d go back more and buy more books.

Amazon.com has been eating Barns & Noble’s lunch. If there is one advantage B&N has, that’s their physical presence and the face-to-face relationship they could build with their customers.

By not doing the 4% extra and being mediocre, they simply frustrated a customer.

After giving up buying the magazine, I went to the B&N cafe. The waitress was on the phone, laughing and chatting. She said to me "I’d be with you shortly". After a minute of waiting, she came to me.

"What can I get for me?"

"I want a tall Coffee Mocha".

"Sorry, our espresso machine is broken. We cannot make any espresso today."

I had no choice but left. It seemed that they found a way to stay in mediocrity, and not delight their customers.

Are you running a business or starting a company? Make sure your entire organization is aligned to take the extra steps to delight your customers.

To quote Seth Godin:

"Doing 4% less does not get you 4% less. Doing 4% less may very well get you 95% less."

Tags: Company Analysis · Start-up Success

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