I recently read an article about online book discovery and it got me thinking about showrooming in the book industry. According to a survey done by Harris Interactive, Barnes and Noble is the 5th most showroomed retailer. What makes this industry interesting is that it is facing showrooming threats from more than one angle: not only is online bookselling giant Amazon offering books at much lower prices, but the advent of eBooks has also shaken up the industry quite a bit, and has resulted in book sellers, such as Canadian retailer Indigo Books & Music, shifting their product focus to higher margin, less “showroomable” items such as toys and home products.
Here is the problem with the current model: As the article by Owen points out, online book discovery is broken. Most people simply don’t discover their next book purchase online. Apparently they either get recommendations from friends, or they discover it in store. Yet, as I mentioned earlier, showrooming in this industry is very real, meaning that people make their actual purchases online. So book lovers go to the store for a leisurely coffee-drinking-book-browsing experience, choose their next title, and then purchase either an ebook version or from a cheaper online retailer. And the publishers aren’t doing anything to help. By keeping their prices high and not taking into account the higher overhead of a brick-and-mortar retailer, the publishers are forcing book retailers, like Borders, out of business. They simply cannot compete in the age of Amazon and eBooks without flexibility in their prices and costs. But, as Owen highlights, it will not only be the retailers that suffer, the publishers will suffer alongside them as they lose their major advertising channel.
However, this situation extends beyond just books. There is a reason that showrooming happens. We want to see and touch things before we buy them. And yes, there are key things the retailers should do, like getting competitive price intelligence, and yes, there are things that they can do to help combat showrooming, like finding ways to add value for their in-store customers or implementing price matching policies (as Best Buy and Target have done). However, in the end, it should not be all on their shoulders. Whether manufacturers like it or not, brick and mortar stores are a major advertising channel for them, and it is time that they treat it as one they need to invest in.